Western Australia’s WorkSafe commissioner says he hopes the state’s first jail sentence for gross negligence will act as a deterrent to other employers who do not take workplace safety seriously.
Mark Thomas Withers, the sole director of shed building company MT Sheds, pleaded guilty to a total of seven separate charges, including charges related to the death of a 25-year-old worker, in March last year.
He was jailed on Monday for eight months and his company fined $605,000 when the sentence was handed down in Esperance Magistrates Court.
The sentence included an additional 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
Withers was also personally fined $2,250 for operating a crane without the appropriate licence.
It was one of the first cases in WA since harsher penalties were introduced for breaches of workplace safety laws in October 2018, the biggest change since 1984.
Worksafe WA commissioner Darren Kavanagh said the fines were the highest that could be issued under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
“My understanding is this (two years and two months imprisonment in total) is the longest sentence ever imposed for a workplace health and safety offence in Australia,”
Two workers employed by MT Sheds in March last year were installing roofing on a large machinery shed at a farm in Beaumont, about 100 kilometres east of Esperance when a strong wind lifted a sheet from the pack of roof sheets they were installing and caused both workers to fall.
Jake Williams, 25, died after falling about nine metres from the apex of the shed.
His 21-year-old co-worker, Fraser Pinchin, suffered multiple fractures of the pelvis, hip, wrist and ribs after falling about 7m from the shed’s gutter line.
Mr Kavanagh said that culpability for a work-related death did not get much worse, saying “there are no winners in situations like these”.
“This penalty should act as a significant deterrent and be a moment of awakening for workplaces and industries that do not prioritise the health and safety of their workers,” he said.
“Our focus as a regulator is to try and prevent incidents from occurring.
“In this case, this was a particularly serious offence and the penalties are proportionate, and I think that should act as a deterrent to other workplaces.”
SafeFarms WA executive officer Maree Gooch said the sentence had ignited discussion over the responsibility of farmers when employing contractors ahead of new industria
She said she hoped the case became a “tragic catalyst” for change.
“I think it’s really important that farmers get their safety systems in place and that they be aware that the new legislation is coming,” she said.
“When it comes to contractors, the contractor must deem the workplace to be safe, because ultimately they are the employer, so there can be a bit of blurring of the lines when it comes to insurances and responsibilities and liabilities.
“We certainly suggest that farmers do a site induction and make sure the contractor’s workers do the induction, because that is when you will find out if they have the required skills or require more training.”
Source: ABC News