$1.3 million fine for workplace manslaughter

A stonemasonry business has become the first company convicted under Victoria’s workplace manslaughter laws after causing the death of a worker who was fatally crushed at a Somerton factory.

LH Holding Management Pty Ltd, trading as Universal Stone and Marble, was sentenced in the Victorian Supreme Court today after pleading guilty to a single charge of engaging in negligent conduct that constituted a breach of a duty owed to another person and caused their death.

The company was convicted and fined $1.3 million.

LH Holding Management’s sole director Laith Hanna, 46, was also convicted and placed on a two-year Community Corrections Order to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work and a course in forklift operation after pleading guilty to a single charge under section 144(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for being an officer of a company that committed workplace manslaughter, a contravention solely attributable to his failure to take reasonable care.

The company and Hanna were also ordered to pay $120,000 in compensation to the worker’s family for pain and suffering.

In October 2021, a 25-year-old sub-contractor died after a forklift being operated by Hanna with a raised load on a sloping driveway tipped over and landed on top of him.

A WorkSafe investigation found it was reasonably practicable for the company to reduce the risk of serious injury or death by ensuring that the forklift was driven with the load as low to the ground as possible; driven in reverse down any slope or incline; only operated when other people were at a safe distance; and not driven across or turned on any slope or incline.

The court heard LH Holding Management’s failure to ensure that the forklift was operated properly was negligent because it fell well short of the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the circumstances.

The company’s prosecution is the first completed under section 39G(1) of the OHS Act since Victoria’s workplace manslaughter provisions were introduced in July 2020.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the worker’s tragic death was entirely preventable.

“There is no such thing as unavoidable workplace harm and the impact that a loss of life has on family, friends and colleagues can never be understated,” Dr Beer said.

“This prosecution is a clear reminder to duty holders of the serious personal and financial consequences they face if they engage in activity that puts the health and safety of workers at risk.”

Employers using mobile plant such as forklifts should ensure:

  • A traffic management plan is in place to separate pedestrians and powered mobile plant and that it is reviewed and updated as required.
  • There is an effective communication system between operators and other workers, including any contractors.
  • Signage and barriers are erected where appropriate.
  • Visibility issues are identified and controlled, particularly if lighting is poor.
  • Operators are provided adequate information, instruction and training and work in accordance with an appropriate high risk work licence.
  • Powered mobile plant is maintained and operated in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and operations manuals.

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

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