The defendant company held duties under s.21 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, being a person in charge of a business or undertaking, involving management of fixtures, fittings or plant at a workplace.
The defendant company together with three other entities, formed a partnership and acquired a commercial premises. These premises were leased to a diesel repair company. Four bi-fold doors were present and in use at the time the partnership took ownership of the property. The doors operated manually with the assistance of a counterweight mechanism. The counterweights were attached to a wire rope and were housed behind metal guide plates. The doors comprised of two separate panels hinged at mid-height. During the six years of owning the premises the defendants never conducted or arranged for maintenance of the bi-fold doors.
On the 27 February 2013, two employees of the lessee company opened a bi-fold door. As the door opened a piece of wire rope attached to the counterweight snapped and the door fell back toward the workshop floor striking the two workers. One sustained a catastrophic head injury and died days later, the other sustained a minor shoulder injury that did not require treatment.
Post incident measures included having all of the bi-fold doors replaced with electric doors at a cost of $32,000.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 4 March 2016, to breaching s. 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Thacker sentenced all four defendants in relation to the offence and issued a global fine in the amount of $120,000 to be apportioned among the parties ($30,000 each) and ordered professional and court costs totalling $1,780. No conviction was recorded.
In reaching the decision, the magistrate noted that although the defendants weren't idle or negligent in their ownership of the premises, they did not actively inspect or maintain the doors to ensure they were able to be operated safely. The court noted that ultimately the wire broke due to wear, tear and corrosion and the doors had not been inspected in the six years the defendant companies had owned the building. The magistrate reiterated the importance of regular inspection of plant, particularly plant that is utilized on a daily basis and the need for general deterrence to show the intolerance that the community feels toward a worker dying at work in avoidable circumstances.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Thacker acknowledged that the maximum penalty had increased significantly and this was a principal factor in the decision. She noted that parliament speaks often about the safety of workers in Australia and is reflected in the increase in the maximum fine. The victim impact statement weighed on the court's decision as did maintaining parity across the sentences that were provided by the prosecution. The magistrate did accept that the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, cooperated with the investigation and entered an early plea of guilty. The court also acknowledged the post incident measures that were taken by replacing the doors.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
Visit worksafe.qld.gov.au for information on:
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Date of offence:
- Brisbane Magistrates Court
- Ms Ann Thacker
- s.32 of the duty under s.21 Work health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- $120,000 global fine (to be apportioned between the four parties)
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: