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First successful industrial manslaughter prosecution against an individual

31 March 2022

Following on from our previous article about this case, Jeffrey Owen was last Friday convicted and sentenced after a four day jury trial to five years jail, to be suspended after serving 18 months in prison, the charge having carried a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. 

This is the first time an individual has been prosecuted, convicted and jailed for industrial manslaughter since the offence was introduced in Queensland in 2017 (see s 34C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)). The only other successful prosecution to date has been against a company (see article here).
The conviction related to an incident on 3 July 2019 at Owen's Electric Motor Rewinds in Gympie, Queensland, where Mr Owen negligently caused the death of a worker when a forklift was overloaded, tipped and fatally struck the worker. Specifically, it was alleged that Mr Owen was not licensed to operate the forklift and the forklift did not have sufficient lifting capacity to unload the generator from the truck, the rear wheels of the forklift having come off the ground when it took on the load. The business also had no documented health and safety procedures. In addition, there were other methods which were available to the business to unload the generator (at little cost) that weren't used by the business.

While all industrial manslaughter convictions to date have involved small companies with little to no safety management systems, this case still serves a timely reminder to all corporate officers and managers (not just directors) that they need to continue to 'ensure' that due diligence systems are both carried out carefully and reviewed regularly, in order to avoid the very real risk of large fines and/or potential custodial sentences for individuals for serious incidents and fatalities in the workplace.  

If you require further information or have any queries in relation to this legal update, please contact a member of our Health and Safety team. For assistance with risk management strategies for your workplace please contact Darren Sharry at DWF Risk.

Further Reading