ACT News

Kenoss project manager accused over workplace fatality gives evidence

A senior officer of Kenoss Contractors has claimed he is not "directly responsible" for the fatal electrocution of a tipper truck driver at a road resurfacing project in Turner, saying the dead man "should have followed the foreman's directions".

The small compound where Michael Booth, a 48-year-old who was sub-contracting at the site, was electrocuted was not locked and looked like it was in use when he drove in there to dump a load of gravel-like material in March 2012.

Munir al-Hasani, former project manager at Kenoss Contractors, outside court earlier this year.
Munir al-Hasani, former project manager at Kenoss Contractors, outside court earlier this year. Photo: Matt Bedford

Live power lines hung above the compound, and the top of Mr Booth's truck struck them as his tipper raised.

Electricity ran through the truck toward the earth, electrocuting Mr Booth, who got out, collapsed, and later died. 

Michael Booth who died on a work site in 2012.
Michael Booth who died on a work site in 2012. 

The prosecution allege a series of basic safety breaches were involved in Mr Booth's death.

There were no warning signs anywhere about the live power lines and no tiger tails or warning flags were attached to alert workers to their presence. There was no spotter to help Mr  Booth dump the load safely and the power had also not been turned off, something that can be done through liaison with ActewAGL.

Kenoss and its project manager, Munir al-Hasani, 64, are currently facing one criminal charge each in the ACT Industrial Court, although the company is in liquidation, leaving al-Hasani to face the charges alone.

The case is being keenly watched, as it is the first time a senior manager of a company has been prosecuted under new nationally-harmonised work health safety laws. 

Al-Hasani, not represented by a lawyer, took to the witness box on Friday, promising to clear his name.

"I'm here sitting clearing my name, and saying that what the prosecution is alleging, that I am directly responsible for it, I am not directly responsible for it," he said at the outset of his evidence. 

Al-Hasani's defence appeared to rest on two main grounds; that the small compound where the death occurred had already been transferred to another contractor, and that Kenoss told workers not to use the area and to only use small machinery because of the power lines.

When asked about whether Kenoss could have put up warning signs, locked the compound, attached tiger tails or warning flags at the site, al-Hasani responded: "I had better, the people that were using it were inductedThey were doing as they were told."

Prosecutor Sara Gul then asked  him about whether he really thought just telling people about the overhead lines was better than employing safety measures.

Ms Gul asked him what his approach would mean for strangers who came onto the site. Al-Hasani first responded he didn't want to answer that question and then, when pressed, said he didn't know. 

Al-Hasani also said that Mr Booth should have followed directions to deliver the material to a different compound. 

"The incident couldn't happen, peace be upon him, if he would have followed the direction of the foreman. There would have been no incident," he said.

But Ms Gul put it to al-Hasani that there was no evidence Mr Booth had been told not to deliver the load to the small compound where the power lines hung overhead. 

The foreman, Lou Clarke, has also given evidence that he can't remember what he said to Mr Booth when the driver came to the site to drop off the material.

Al-Hasani later pointed to his 20 years of work in the industry, saying he was proud of his safety record.

"I am proud to say, including this incident, which did not happen in my domain, there has never been an injury on my site," he said.

He even highlighted his work on the construction of the ACT Magistrate's Court building as a project manager. 

"It took me 20 years to come into this building. I was project manager here," he said.

"I might have to have a word to you about that," Industrial Magistrate Lorraine  Walker responded, prompting laughter in the court.

The case has been adjourned until next week, to allow al-Hasani time to decide whether to subpoena additional documents. 

It will return to court next week.