In June 2015 a trucking company boss, Peter Colbert, was found guilty of the manslaughter of one employee and endangering the life of another after knowingly allowing his employees to drive a truck with defective brakes. The court rejected his argument that he had relied upon his other employees to ensure proper maintenance of equipment and found that he simply chose to ignore the defective brake issue.
This is the first time in Australia that an employer has been found to be personally responsible in the criminal courts for work-place negligence, rather than prosecuted under the Work Health Safety Act.
Mr Colbert appealed the initial decision and last month, another jury again found him guilty. Following sentencing this week, he has been sentenced to ten years and six months jail time, a term significantly longer than any penalty that could be applied under the Work Health Safety Act.
Central to his conviction was the fact that Mr Colbert had been told repeatedly over a two month period that the brakes on the truck were defective. Two days before the fatal crash occurred in 2014, another driver nearly had an accident, narrowly missing other motorists. After returning the truck, the driver told Mr Colbert, in front of another employee, that the brakes did not work but was ignored.
This case serves as a salutary warning to all business owners that you cannot ignore employee concerns about machinery they use nor rely on others to ensure its safety. As an employer, you yourself must be pro-active. Otherwise, the consequences can be devastating and you may find yourself held personally liable.
Practice Area: Employment