On 18 June 2015 a Supreme Court jury found an employer guilty of manslaughter and endangering the life of his employee. This was the case even though he had relied on the skill of his other employees to ensure proper maintenance of equipment.
This is the first time that an employer has been found to be personally responsible in the criminal courts (rather than prosecuted under the Work Health Safety Act) for work-place negligence.
Because the conviction resulted from the decision of a jury, rather than a judgment, we do not yet have the judge’s reasoning for the conviction, or know the full facts of the case, but what we know is set out below.
The jury found that the lack of involvement in the maintenance of the vehicle by the employer amounted to a criminal act and convicted him. The penalty for manslaughter carries a maximum life sentence of imprisonment.
The man is yet to be sentenced and may well seek to appeal the conviction but it is an important development in the industrial landscape that the prosecution occurred at all.
The introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act in 2012 signalled the government’s intention to hold employers personally liable for the safety of their employees, but the prosecution of an employer through the criminal law jurisdiction goes further than ever before.
Even if a conviction were not to be recorded, in having to go through the process of a criminal trial, the costs to your business and you personally would be enormous, not only financially, but in time, lost productivity, stress, loss of reputation and the effect on your personal life.
For that reason, it is clear that you cannot simply rely on your employees to ensure safety, you must take a pro-active role in ensuring it. Regular risk assessments, hazard identification and ensuring that equipment is properly and regularly maintained are essential.
For more information please contact:
Joanna Andrew, Partner
Ph: (08) 8414 3454
Elizabeth Olsson, Senior Associate
Ph: (08) 8414 3413
The contents of this E-Alert is for general information only. It is not intended as professional advice - for that you should consult a solicitor or barrister, or any other suitably qualified professional such as your accountant.
Practice Area: Employment