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Aaron Bunch
First Qld industrial manslaughter sentence

A Queensland court is hearing sentencing submissions for the state’s first industrial manslaughter case after a worker was hit and killed by a forklift.

May 28, 2020

An unlicensed forklift driver fatally struck a colleague at a wrecking yard that lacked safety barriers, a court hearing Queensland’s first industrial manslaughter prosecution has been told.

Tiger Barry Willis, 58, died eight days after he was pinned between a reversing forklift and a truck he was loading with tyres at Brisbane Auto Recycling in May last year.

His daughter, Josephine Cleeland, says her family is still traumatised by the much-loved father-of-four and grandfather-of-six’s death.

“We were unable to hear any last goodbyes from him. There was no last hugs or kisses, no last ‘I love you’,” she told the Brisbane District Court on Thursday.

“We were just left with complete uncertainty and heartbreak.”

Mr Willis’s employer, Brisbane Auto Recycling, pleaded guilty in April to causing his death at its Rocklea plant for failing to effectively separate pedestrians from a mobile plant and supervise workers.

Work Health and Safety prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle says an investigation found the company had no safety systems and no traffic management plan.

“This was a workplace that had three forklifts operators carrying car bodies and partial car bodies without physical barriers,” he said during sentencing submissions.

The court is also hearing submissions for company directors Asadullah Hussaini, 25, and Mohammad Ali Jan Karimi, 23, who pleaded guilty to engaging in reckless conduct.

The charges relate to their failure to ensure the business had effective safety systems in place.

“It is difficult to see how the conduct of the directors did not play some part in the eventual outcome,” Mr Guilfoyle said.

The court has heard Brisbane Auto Recycling had business and public liability insurance but no WorkCover.

The company was also about nine months behind in superannuation payments for staff.

“The business itself was covered but its workers were not,” Mr Guilfoyle said.

The court heard Karimi initially told a triple-zero operator Mr Willis had fallen from the truck in an attempt to deflect blame from his company.

He also “despicably” approached Ms Cleeland at a hospital and said her father had been incorrectly operating a winch when the accident occurred before suggesting CCTV footage of the incident “may not be required”.

Both men later cooperated with investigators, but they deny allowing unlicensed forklift drivers work in their yard.

Mr Guilfoyle asked the court for a sentence of nine to 15 months for Hussaini and Karimi, and a fine of $3 million for Brisbane Auto Recycling.

The men’s lawyer, Neville Weston, said such a fine would force the business to close owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“This episode has been a very significant alert to them of the responsibilities of running a business,” he said.

Hussaini and Karimi came to Australia as teenage refugees in 2010, having fled violence in Afghanistan.

Mr Weston said neither could speak English and they had worked hard to build their business, which largely employs other refugees.

The court heard the men could be deported under immigration laws if handed sentences of 12 months or longer.

However, due to Australia’s policy of not returning refugees to dangerous countries, they could end up stuck in permanent limbo in immigration detention, Mr Weston said.

The maximum penalty for reckless conduct is five years’ imprisonment.

Corporate industrial manslaughter offenders are liable for a fine of up to $10 million.

Judge Anthony Rafter reserved his decision.

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