Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has successfully appealed what it argued was an inadequate fine imposed on VH & MG Imports Pty Ltd over the death of a worker removing gas struts in 2013.
In the Brisbane District Court on 17 March 2017, Judge Ian Dearden upheld the appeal, increasing the original $90,000 fine to $125,000.
This is a case of chasing a punishment which fits the crime, said head of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, Simon Blackwood.
“A bigger fine is a greater deterrent and sends a strong message that safety duties cannot be ignored when doing business,” Dr Blackwood said.
WHSQ appealed on the grounds that there was not enough weight given to general deterrence, too much kudos was given to post offence measures, insufficient weight was given to the failure to take a basic risk assessments or to seek expert advice, and the sentence was well out of line with fines imposed for similar offences under national work health and safety laws.
Explaining his decision, Judge Dearden suggested the penalty should have fallen somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, and in his opinion, in the order of $250,000.
This is the first appeal to address the issue of harmonised national work health and safety laws.
“This decision also shows how in Queensland, the work safety regulator is trying to promote the nationally harmonised laws which were introduced in 2012, and is prepared to refer to comparable sentences in other harmonised jurisdictions.”
His Honour was particularly critical of the lengthy delays in finalising the matter and acknowledged the difficulties arising from the High Court’s Barbaro decision, which limited prosecutors’ ability to put forward appropriate ranges on sentences.