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Business lessons from WA director’s workplace safety negligence imprisonment

Published 08 September 2021

Western Australia has jailed its first business director for gross negligence after one worker died and another was seriously injured after falling from a shed roof under construction. Gallagher Practice Leader, Safety Workplace Risk Stephen Lewis examines the liability implications for businesses.

In this case the MT Sheds director, Mark Thomas Withers, was sentenced in the Esperance Magistrate’s Court to two years and two months’ imprisonment for the 2020 death of a young worker and the serious injury of another.

Other charges were that neither Mark Withers nor either of the two employees involved in the incident held High Risk Work Licences for the work they were performing, and that MT Sheds allowed Jake Williams to do construction work when he did not hold a Construction Induction Training Certificate (or “white card”).

MT Sheds was fined a total of $550,000 for these breaches of the occupational safety and health regulations. The fines are the highest under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, following the McGowan Government’s increase in penalties for breaches of the workplace safety laws in 2018.

 


Ensuring safety is embedded in a business and driven from the top should be at the forefront of Australian businesses to prevent similar incidents.

 

With the highest workplace health and safety fine ever imposed in Western Australia handed down, Stephen Lewis, Gallagher Practice Leader, Safety Workplace Risk says the conviction should prompt Australian businesses to ask themselves, ‘Are we doing enough to drive safety in our workplace?’

What steps can businesses undertake to prevent an incident like this occurring?

Falling from heights is a leading cause of Australian workplace fatalities and construction is one of the 3 sectors that account for 75% of these preventable incidents, along with transport, postal and warehousing, and agriculture, forestry and fishing. 

That fatality statistics have not reduced significantly in recent years (in 2020, 182 Australian workers were killed at work compared with 183 workers in 2019) reveals that businesses have not effectively adopted safety culture, which needs to be led and implemented at management level, Lewis says.

“A safety culture starts at the top: directors and senior management discussing, driving and actively creating a safe workplace ‒ in board meetings, management meetings and when working in the business. The key to ensuring safety is to be systematic and thorough.”

Steps business should take to achieve a safe work environment include:
•    ensuring hazards and risks from all work sources are identified and active steps taken to eliminate and control those risks
•    safe work methods are developed and communicated to workers within a consultative framework
•    correct safety training is provided to workers conducting tasks
•    safety needs are supported with resources and by knowledgeable and skilled staff
•    safety messages are communicated regularly, reinforced and enforced
•    safety measures are systematically audited and reviewed
•    the board and senior management ensure all these measures have occurred, and are occurring, by providing adequate support and conducting due diligent enquiries and reporting.

“Ensuring safety is embedded in a business and driven from the top should be at the forefront of West Australian businesses to prevent similar incidents,” Lewis stresses. The sentence sends a strong message that businesses are required to properly manage work health and safety, and failure can prove costly ‒ and not just in human terms. The Gallagher Workplace Risk team is available as a resource to help your business proactively ensure safety is managed effectively and all levels of the business are informed, capable and supported. 

Find out more by talking to one of the experts from the Gallagher Workplace Risk team.

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Gallagher provides insurance, risk management and benefits consulting services for clients in response to both known and unknown risk exposures. When providing analysis and recommendations regarding potential insurance coverage, potential claims and/or operational strategy in response to national emergencies (including health crises), we do so from an insurance and/or risk management perspective.
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