ACT News

ACT workplace death case the first to charge manager

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said this case would be a turning point for the ACT and Australia.
ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said this case would be a turning point for the ACT and Australia. Photo: Karleen Minney

The ACT will be the first jurisdiction to charge a senior company manager over the death of a worker in a workplace accident.

The case of Michael Booth, a 48-year-old Gunning truck driver who was electrocuted while working for Kenoss Contractors in 2012, is due back in court next week.

The company and a senior manager were charged last month but the case has been weighed down in legal argument about whether Kenoss can respond to the charges,  having gone into involuntary liquidation last year.

Pleas have yet to be entered.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said this case would be a turning point for the ACT and Australia, as the Director of Public Prosecutions sought action against a senior manager as well as the company itself over a workplace death.

Under new nationally harmonised work health and safety laws, the category two offence under section 32 carries with it a maximum company fine of $1.5 million while an officer of the company can be fined $300,000.

Mr McCabe noted that the new laws were designed to “ensure that people at the highest level have personal accountability for what happens with the company”.

“We believe that this is the first charge against an officer in the country under these new provisions.”

The death of Mr Booth occurred when he tipped his truck trailer to offload gravel at a dumping station in Turner and the trailer touched a power line.

Mr McCabe said that when he investigated the accident, the power line seemed to be very low.

“You have to question why the dump was put in such a location. They could have located it across the road well out of the reach of power lines.”

Mr Booth’s death occurred three months after the death of 45-year-old construction worker  Wayne Vickery, who was crushed by a grader on a building site in West Macgregor. Just four months later 21-year-old Ben Catanzariti was fatally struck by a concrete boom pump on a Kingston work site.

The deaths, accompanied by the fatal fall of painter David Couch on a residential job, led to the Getting Home Safely inquiry and new powers and funding for the WorkSafe inspectorate.

Mr McCabe said targeting senior managers had the potential to send a strong warning about safety through the entire industry. “It says that the liability for safety matters may not rest with the companies alone but also with the senior managers.”

While Kenoss is in liquidation, it is believed many of the company’s assets and personnel have been subsumed into a new company.

Mr McCabe noted that in the past companies that went into liquidation or otherwise were dissolved prior to a case reaching court had prevented successful prosecutions, but in this case, a company officer would still face charges regardless of what happened with Kenoss.