Thinking | 23 July 2020
Charges against Ardent Leisure, parent company of Dreamworld
On 21 July 2020, the Office of the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor (OWHSP) filed three charges against Ardent Leisure, the parent company of Dreamworld.
In February 2020 the Inquest by the Coroners Court of Queensland into the deaths of four people at Dreamworld in 2016 referred the matter to the OWHSP for consideration of prosecution. The coroner was very critical of Dreamworld in regards to safety.
The charges against Ardent Leisure relate to offences under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHSA). These charges are category 2 civil offences under section 32 of the WHSA. The prosecutor will need to establish that the company had a health and safety duty to the individual, that there was a failure to comply with this duty and that failure exposed an individual to a risk of death or serious injury. The maximum fine for each offence, if convicted, is $1.5 million.
It is worth remembering that for the most serious incidents the consequences for a company and its officers can be significant.
Importantly, the OWHSP has chosen not to proceed with charging for the more serious category 1 criminal offences under section 31 of the WHSA where reckless conduct on the part of the company would need to be established. Interestingly, there have been no charges against individual officers within the company. There has been criticism from some families of the victims in regards to the lack of charges against company officers.
Further, for industrial cases, industrial manslaughter provisions were introduced in the WHSA on 23 October 2017. On 11 June 2020 the Brisbane District Court handed down the first conviction in Australia for industrial manslaughter in R v Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd & Ors  QDC 113. The defendant company was convicted of industrial manslaughter and two officers were found guilty of reckless conduct offences under WHSA. The company was fined $3 million and the officers received suspended custodial sentences. Please see our earlier article about this case.
It should be noted that these provisions, which were introduced after the Dreamworld incident, relate specifically to workers and would not apply to other individuals as is the case in the Dreamworld incident.
The charges against Ardent Leisure, and the recent successful manslaughter prosecution by the OWHSP, serve as important reminders to employers to be aware of their duties in regards to the implementation and enforcement of safe practices both in relation to their employees and other individuals. Hall & Wilcox can advise employers on:
- reviewing all policies and procedures to ensure compliance with work, health and safety legislation;
- ensuring all new workers undergo a thorough induction concerning safety risks and are adequately qualified and trained to complete their work safely;
- auditing safe systems of work including compliance with national safety standards, risk assessments, safe work method statements, workplace safety consultation and incident investigation; and
- training for managers and directors about their work, health and safety obligations.
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