First Victorian prison sentence for OHS breach

A company owner and sole director has recently become the first Victorian to be sentenced to prison for a breach of Occupational Health and Safety Laws.

Legislative background

Courts have long been empowered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (the Act) to impose prison sentences upon individuals who “recklessly” endanger the safety of individuals at a workplace. However, this decision of the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court is the first OHS prosecution where a Victorian court has actually imposed a non-suspended custodial sentence.

The incident

72-year old Maria Jackson – the owner of a scrap metal business – was using a forklift to carry a bin inside of which an employee of the business was standing. The bin was in very poor condition and the employee fell through its base. The bin, which was not properly secured, and its load of steel then fell on top of the employee, striking him on the head and causing fatal injuries.

Ms Jackson, who had never held a forklift license, was personally fined $10,000 and sentenced to six months’ jail for committing two breaches of the Act.

Lessons

  • The decision reflects a growing trend toward the imposition of increasingly severe penalties for breaches of the Act.
  • It is imporant that employers, and all persons legally responsible for health and safety within their workplace, take proactive steps to understand and discharge their legal obligations under the Act.
  • Employers should ensure that a comprehensive set of policies and procedures dealing with OHS risks and compliance is established and that those policies and procedures are applied and enforced.
  • Employers who can demonstrate that they have taken this and other reasonably practicable steps will be better placed to defend any OHS prosecution and, more importantly, reduce the likelihood of OHS incidents altogether.

If you would like further information in relation to your OHS obligations, or if you require tailored and practical assistance developing and implementing OHS policies and procedures, please contact our Employment, Safety and Migration team.

This article was written by Erin McLeod, Law Graduate.