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Major Development - 72 year old woman to serve 6 months imprisonment for health and safety breach

25 January 2019
Regulatory Compliance

As has been previously reported, Maria Jackson, a 72 year old self-employed owner of scrap metal yard, was sentenced to a period of six (6) months imprisonment after pleading guilty to ‘recklessly engaging in conduct that places or may place another person who is at a workplace in danger of serious injury’.

Ms Jackson was also sentenced to pay $10,000 after pleading guilty to a second offence of ‘failing to comply with her duty as a self-employed person, not to expose other persons to risks arising from her undertaking’.

Ms Jackson initially appealed the sentences imposed, however, in a major development this week that appeal has been withdrawn and Ms Jackson is now reportedly in custody.

The circumstances giving rise to these charges have been summarised by the prosecuting authority, WorkSafe Victoria here: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/prosecution-result-summaries-enforceable-undertakings.

This decision and outcome is significant for employers and employees, for a number of reasons:-

  1. As far as we are aware, this is the first instance where an individual has received a custodial sentence for a breach of duty under workplace health and safety legislation. While there have been prior cases where individuals have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment following workplace incidents, those sentences have either been wholly suspended (meaning the individual does not actually spend any time in jail unless there is a further breach) or they have been charged with manslaughter under the relevant state/territory criminal legislation.

     

  2. The charge involving ‘recklessness’, which Ms Jackson pleaded guilty to, carries with it a maximum penalty of $284,426 and/or five (5) years imprisonment for an individual.  There has been mounting pressure for some time now on state governments nationally to increase maximum penalties for breaches of health and safety legislation and introduce an offence of ‘industrial manslaughter’ that has a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, as Queensland did on 23 October 2017.  With this trend of increasing penalties and mounting pressure on regulators to pursue harsher punishments, it would seem it is only a matter of time before further responsive legislative amendments (including a harmonised industrial manslaughter offence) are made in response across the Australian health and safety jurisdictions.

     

  3. This matter also highlights the focus on individual liability and greater appetite for regulators to pursue matters against any individual or company who has breached their health and safety duty.

This unfortunate incident and consequential punishment of Ms Jackson demonstrates that custodial sentences can and will be imposed. It further highlights the importance of ensuring all duty holders are aware of their health and safety duties and how to discharge those duties.

For further information, please contact Matthew Smith or Damian Hegarty.

Further Reading

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