25/05/2021 - 10:30

Director jailed over workplace death

25/05/2021 - 10:30

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The director of an Esperance shed company is expected to serve eight months behind bars over the death of an employee, making him the first person to be jailed in WA under workplace safety laws.

Director jailed over workplace death
MT Sheds (WA) director Mark Withers has been sentenced to two years and two months’ imprisonment. Image: Stock image

The director of an Esperance shed company is expected to serve eight months behind bars over the death of an employee, making him the first person to be jailed in WA under workplace safety laws.

MT Sheds (WA) director Mark Thomas Withers was sentenced to two years and two months’ imprisonment in the Esperance Magistrates Court yesterday after pleading guilty to gross negligence leading to the death of a 25-year-old worker and the serious injury of another.

He will serve eight months of the sentence, with the remaining 18 months suspended for 12 months, and was fined $2250 for operating a crane without the appropriate licence.

MT Sheds and Mr Withers had pleaded guilty to seven charges - this included one charge of gross negligence, which resulted in a fine of more than half a million dollars, and charges relating to the fact that neither of the employees involved in the incident held High Risk Work Licences for the work they were performing.

The fines are the highest issued under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and come three years after the state government increased penalties for breaches of the workplace safety laws.

The state government has committed to introduce new legislation - the Work Health and Safety Act - on January 1, 2022.

It will introduce a new offence of industrial manslaughter, with fines of up to $10 million and jail terms of up to 20 years.

WorkSafe launched legal action against MT Sheds and Mr Withers following an investigation into the death of employee Jake Williams and the serious injury of his colleague Fraser Pinchin in March 2020.

It is understood the pair had been installing roof sheets on a farm shed in Condingup without appropriate safety control measures when a strong gust of wind caused a roof sheet to lift and the pair to fall.

Mr Williams suffered fatal injuries after falling approximately nine metres from the apex of the roof, while Mr Pinchin fell around seven metres from the roof’s edge, suffering multiple fractures of the pelvis, hip, wrist and ribs.

WorkSafe WA commissioner Darren Kavanagh said that culpability for a work-related death did not get much worse than in this case.

“Mr 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,” he said.

“The state government is committed to improving workplace safety laws, including ensuring that significant penalties are available to provide incentive to comply with these laws and ensure that community expectations are met.

“Even so, there are no winners in situations like these.”

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