Canberra crane operator pleads guilty to reckless conduct

Canberra crane operator pleads guilty to
reckless conduct

Matt Turner  |  Managing Director

Earlier this month, the press reported on this development in an important case being prosecuted by ACT Worksafe relating to a construction site death in Bruce, ACT in 2016.

This case is one of the most important cases since the Harmonisation of safety legislation as it involves numerous charges against companies and individuals employed by those companies, some of which are category 1 offences for reckless conduct.

Reckless conduct is defined in Section 31 (1) of The Work Health and Safety Act, the relevant parts of this clause are:

(b) the person, without reasonable excuse, engages in conduct that exposes an individual to whom that duty is owed to a risk of death or serious injury or illness, and

(c) the person is reckless as to the risk to an individual of death or serious injury or illness.

Maximum penalties for breach of this clause are $3,000,000 for corporations, $600,000 for officers, and $300,000 for non-officers (such as the crane operator in this case).

The incident involved use of a mobile crane to shift a large (approx. 11 tonne) generator in poor light and over uneven ground using a crane without sufficient rated capacity for the lift.  According to documents submitted to the court, an overload alarm activated during the lift and was overridden by the operator. The crane tipped and the mast struck and killed 62-year-old Herman Holtz.

There have been numerous press reports into the facts and developments in the case, which you may find useful:

Canberra Times October 2018 article

Canberra Times February 2020 article

In relation to the charges, here is an interesting article from Holding Redlich into the case, the reckless conduct charges, and how they differ from Queensland’s industrial manslaughter laws.  

Plant Assessor Observations and Guidance

We have previously published guidance in relation to the determination and management of rated capacity of lifting devices. This guidance includes lots of useful information. 

Questions related to AS1418.5 – 2013 Cranes, hoists and winches – Mobile Cranes 

At this stage, we do not have enough information to understand the crane’s condition, inspection and risk assessment regime and safe system of work. It is therefore difficult to conclude what role these played in the incident.

Our questions revolve around the presence of mandatory capacity indicators, capacity limiters and motion limiters set out in AS1418.5 section Mandatory limiters and indicators.

One of the reports into the incident and prosecution indicates that the operator overrode an overload alarm, indicating that capacity indicators were present, as we would expect.  

It is unclear at this stage is whether capacity and/or motion limiters in the circumstances either did or may have mitigated or potentially contributed to this tragic incident.

We will continue to follow this important case closely, both from a technical machinery safety standpoint, and due to its importance as a legal precedent related to reckless conduct under WHS legislation.

Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. This is not intended as legal or expert advice for your specific situation. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the content of this information. 

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