First Time a Company Director Gaoled over Workplace Death

A company director has received a 2 year and 2 month gaol sentence for the death of a worker while at work in Western Australia. It is a record prison term in that the director will be the first person to serve gaol time under workplace health and safety laws in Australia.

In 2020, Jake Williams, a worker for MT Sheds (WA) Pty Limited (“the Company”), was installing roof sheets on a large machinery shed with another worker, Fraser Pinchin, when a strong wind caused him and his co-worker to fall from heights of up to 9 metres. While Mr Pinchin suffered multiple fractures to his pelvis, hip, wrist and ribs, Mr Williams lost his life in what could have been a completely avoidable accident, had proper control measures been implemented to ensure the safety of the two workers while onsite.

The Company and its director, Mr Mark Thomas Withers, pleaded guilty to seven separate changes, which included charges in relation to the death of Mr Williams, the serious injuries to Mr Pinchin, and gross negligence against the Company, for which it received a $550, 000 fine and a further $55,000 for breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations.

The prison sentence for Mr Withers was in relation to a charge that the Company’s gross negligence occurred with his consent or was attributable to his neglect as director of the Company. Mr Withers admitted this offence. He will serve the first 8 months of the prison sentence immediately, with the remaining 18 months to be served as a suspended sentence.

Other charges included that neither the director nor the workers held ‘high risk’ work licenses and that the Company, under Mr Wither’s direction, enabled Mr Williams to do construction work despite not holding the requisite construction induction training certificate.

“Withers completely failed in every sense to provide a safe workplace for his employees, and as a consequence, a young man lost his life and a family lost a loved one,” WorkSafe WA commissioner Darren Kavanagh said.

It is the first time in Australian history that a person has been handed an actual prison sentence under occupational health and safety laws for the death of a worker. Following the tragic circumstances leading to the sentence, Mr Kavanagh hopes the Western Australia’s first gaol sentence for a worker’s death will act as a ‘deterrent’ and strongly encourage employers to review and revise their workplace health and safety policies, practices, and procedures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of workers, especially in high-risk occupations.

Stevens & Associates Lawyers provides expert advice in work health and safety litigation, including defending prosecutions. If you require assistance in reviewing your workplace health and safety policies and procedures, or responding to a notifiable incident, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Luke Maroney, and Daphne Klianis.

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