The District Court has ordered a company to pay over $200,000 after their failure to implement adequate health and safety measures led to a fatal car accident.

One of the company’s workers was driving a truck and trailer on a highway when the trailer detached and swerved into traffic. This caused a car crash, in which a child was fatally injured.

The trailer also collided with another vehicle, causing the driver to sustain moderate injuries.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, an employer is required to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of any person is not put at risk as a result of the work that they carry out. This duty extends to members of the general public.

The Court held that the employer’s actions breached this duty under the Act.  

An expert found that the accident was caused by the poor condition of the tow ball and coupling which made the connection of the trailer very loose. The Court found that this health and safety failure occurred because the employer did not implement regular safety inspections of its vehicles, including keeping a record of whether the components of the vehicles and trailers were up to safety standards. As well as this, the safety checks that the employer did complete did not include assessments of the tow bar and coupling.

The Court found that if the trailer connection had been checked, it would have been visibly unsafe for use. The risk that the trailer would unhook and possibly cause harm was obvious. The Court also concluded that the cost to ensure the trailer was safe to tow would have been relatively small to the employer.  

The initial starting point of the fine was set by the Court at $600,000, recognising a high level of culpability. The Judge reduced this fine to $360,000 after accounting for mitigating factors such as the employer’s early guilty plea and willingness to contribute to restorative justice.

This was eventually reduced to $50,000, as the employer was not in a financial position to pay such a large amount.

The Judge also ordered the employer to pay $100,000 in reparation to the victim’s family, as well as another $10,000 to each of the four family members for the significant emotional harm caused by the accident.

The Judge ordered the employer to pay $5000 to the driver that suffered moderate injuries as a result of the accident, as well as over $5000 in legal costs.

There are important health and safety processes which must be undertaken by employers. If you are confused about such obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

 

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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors