Jail for owner after negligence fatality

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The owner of a shed builder has become the first person in WA to be imprisoned for gross negligence after a man fell to his death last year

Jail for owner after negligence fatality
The prison term is the longest to be handed down in Australia for a negligence offence

 

The owner of a Western Australian shed-building company has been jailed for gross negligence, after one young worker died and another was seriously injured in a workplace accidents last year.

Mark Thomas Withers was sentenced to two years and two months of imprisonment at the Esperance Magistrates Court yesterday, the first person to be sentenced to jail under WA’s new workplace safety laws.

Withers and his company, MT Sheds (WA) Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty to seven separate charges, including charges in relation to the death of Jake Williams and serious injuries to Fraser Pinchin in March 2020.

On the day of the incident, the two workers were installing roof sheets on a large machinery shed they were constructing on a farm for agricultural purposes without safety control measures in place.

A strong wind or willy-willy lifted a sheet from the pack of roof sheets they were working near, causing them both to fall from a significant height.

Jake Williams fell approximately nine metres from the apex of the roof, suffering fatal injuries, while Fraser Pinchin fell around seven metres from the roof’s edge near the gutter line, suffering multiple fractures of the pelvis, hip, wrist and ribs.

The charges included one of gross negligence against MT Sheds, for which the company was fined $550,000, with Withers pleading guilty to a charge that the negligence offence occurred either with his consent, or was attributable to his neglect.

Other charges were that neither Withers nor either of the two workers held High Risk Work Licences for work they were performing, and that MT Sheds allowed Jake Williams to do construction work when he did not hold a Construction Induction Training Certificate – also known as a white card.

MT Sheds was fined a total of $55,000 for these breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, and Withers was also fined $2,250 for operating a crane without the appropriate licence.

He will serve eight months of the sentence immediately, with the remaining 18 months suspended for 12 months.

According to the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, both the total prison term and the eight month immediate term are the longest ever imposed for a work health and safety offence in Australia.

They come after the WA government increased penalties for breaches of workplace safety laws in 2018.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said today 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 says.

"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," Kavanagh says.

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