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Reckless endangerment – What is it and what does it mean for you?

Throughout Australia, a breach of OHS obligations under the relevant OHS legislation exposes businesses and individuals to fines.

However, in four jurisdictions (Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia) there is a higher offence that can lead to individual imprisonment for recklessly endangering other persons in the workplace.

What does “recklessly” mean?

The word recklessly, in these circumstances, means knowingly doing or omitting to do something where the result was possible or probable endangerment. That is, being careless to the consequences of your actions when the risk of another person being endangered is possible or probable.

Up until a few days ago, no case of reckless endangerment had been successfully prosecuted. But the recent Victorian case of ORD Drilling resulted in the company being fined $750,000.

This fine was given after an employee died from an accident while driving a truck, due to:

  1. The employee being inadequately trained in driving the truck safely.
  2. The truck brakes being faulty, and the secondary brake had been disconnected.

Not surprisingly, the employer pleaded guilty.

Under harmonisation, where the maximum fine for this type of offence is $3 million, it would be reasonable to expect this fine would be greater than $2 million.

What are the lessons?

  1. NEVER ignore a safety risk!
  2. Maintain appropriate training and maintenance records and processes to ensure such a risk never occurs.
  3. Engage your supervisors in identifying failures in the process and “at risk” behaviours.
  4. Always induct an employee to every new piece of plant, equipment or vehicle use.

Failure at any step could lead to jail time! The 4 steps above cost you nothing, and may save your employees’ lives and your freedom.

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