Industrial Manslaughter in Australia

A scrap metal yard in Brisbane, Australia has been issued with a $3,000,000 fine for industrial manslaughter and the two directors of the company were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended. The cause was reckless conduct, with a worker being hit by a reversing forklift, and then later dying from his injuries.

In October 2017 in Queensland, the offence of industrial manslaughter commenced. Most other Australian states and territories, since then, have introduced similar legislation. For workplace health and safety incidents that result in death, the industrial manslaughter offence put in place harsher penalties for companies and their senior employees. R v Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd [2020] is the first case in which a business has been sentenced under the new laws. This case is a deterrent to other businesses, and it warns them of the importance of worker safety.

Circumstances of the offences

At Brisbane Auto Recycling, in the delivery area, Mr. Barry Willis was caught between his truck and a forklift that was reversing, ultimately resulting in his death.

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld), Brisbane Auto Recycling was charged with industrial manslaughter under section 34C. The company’s two directors, Mr. Hussaini and Mr. Karimi, were both charged with reckless conduct for failing to exercise due diligence in ensuring the company complied with health and safety obligations of its workers by:

  • without reasonable excuse, engaging in conduct that exposed a worker to a risk of death or serious injury; and
  • acting recklessly as to the risk to the individual of death or serious injury.

Each of the defendants pled guilty, and in the sentencing hearing on May 2020, Brisbane Auto Recycling was fined $3,000,000, and both directors were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, suspended wholly for a period of 20 months.

Considerations in sentencing

When sentencing the two directors of Brisbane Auto Recycling for industrial manslaughter, Judge Rafter SC considered the following factor:

  • Brisbane Auto Recycling did not have a workplace health and safety policy and the directors told their employees to ‘look after their own safety’.
  • For the 15 months prior to the incident, the workers were at risk of being seriously injured.
  • There were no previous workplace health and safety breaches at Brisbane Auto Recycling.
  • There is a need for general deterrence and specific deterrence against similar or the same conduct.
  • Mr. Hussaini submitted psychiatric reports to the court.
  • Guilty pleas were entered.
  • Mitigating factors such as age and the character of the directors.

It was also noted that the fine issued would likely force Brisbane Auto Recycling into administration.