First individual convicted for industrial manslaughter

A Gympie businessman has become the first person prosecuted and convicted under Queensland’s industrial manslaughter laws.

At a hearing in the Gympie District Court last week, Jeffrey Owen was sentenced to five years jail over a workplace incident in which his friend was crushed to death by a falling generator being moved from the back of a truck.

The prosecution, conviction and jail sentence are the first of an individual for an offence under Queensland’s industrial manslaughter laws (Section 34C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011).

The offence occurred at Owen’s Electric Motor Rewinds in Gympie. The business, operated by Mr Owen, involved the repair and maintenance of electrical items, including generators.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation revealed that on 3 July 2019 a generator was delivered on a flatbed truck and a friend of Owen helped him unload the generator. The defendant used a forklift to remove the generator from the back of the truck, but it fell from the tines and landed on his friend.

The court heard Owen’s conduct caused the death of his friend in that he negligently operated the forklift.

His conduct was negligent because he was not licenced to operate a forklift and the business he ran had no documented health and safety procedures, in particular, procedures for using the forklift to unload heavy equipment.

The forklift had a lifting capacity that was inadequate for its use in unloading the generator.

The court also heard that safe, alternative methods of unloading the generator were available at low cost.

Judge Glen Cash QC sentenced Owen to five years imprisonment suspended after 18 months for an operational period of five years. He noted that the sentence needed to reflect considerations of punishment, general and personal deterrence and denunciation, as well as the defendant’s personal circumstances and his remorse.

Judge Cash took into account Owen had had no prior convictions, was remorseful and had subsequently put in place all necessary procedures and that his friend had put himself in harm’s way, but it did not relieve the defendant of his responsibility.

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