Thursday, 03 June, 2021
Western Australia has recorded its first imprisonment under new workplace health and safety laws. Mark Thomas Withers, the director of a shed building company, is the first person to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment under the new laws, over the 2020 death of a young worker and the serious injury of another. Withers has been sentenced to two years and two months’ imprisonment and will serve eight months of the sentence immediately, with the remaining 18 months suspended for 12 months. Withers was also fined $2250 for operating a crane without the appropriate licence.
The term of imprisonment of two years and two months is the longest term of imprisonment ever imposed for a work safety and health offence in Australia, and the eight-month immediate-term of imprisonment is also the longest ever immediate term imposed for a work safety and health offence in Australia.
MT Sheds and Withers pleaded guilty to seven separate charges, including charges in relation to the death of Jake Williams and serious injuries to Fraser Pinchin in 2020. The charges included one of gross negligence against MT Sheds, for which the company was fined $550,000. Withers also pleaded guilty to a charge that the company’s offence occurred with his consent or was attributable to his neglect. It was on this charge that Withers was sentenced to imprisonment.
Other charges were that neither Withers nor either of the two employees involved in the incident held high-risk work licences for the work they were performing, and that MT Sheds allowed Williams to perform construction work when he did not hold a construction induction training certificate (‘white card’). MT Sheds was fined $55,000 for these breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations. The fines are the highest under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, following the state government’s increase in penalties for breaches of the workplace safety laws in 2018.
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,” said Kavanagh.
The incident occurred when 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 near the workers, causing them both to fall from a significant height.
Williams fell approximately nine metres from the apex of the roof, suffering fatal injuries, while 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 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,” said Kavanagh. “Even so, there are no winners in situations like these.