Families Left Behind: Christiana Paterson leads calls for industrial manslaughter laws after worksite death of Chris Patrick

The West Australian

A Perth woman who fought for six years to get answers over the workplace death of her partner hopes the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws will save countless families from similar heartache.

Christiana Paterson was one of the eight representatives of families who had lost loved ones to workplace incidents who fronted an inquiry today into the proposed new laws.

The testimony from the group, known as Families Left Behind, came as industry bodies representing sectors such as construction have railed hard against some of the proposed new penalties.

Ms Paterson’s partner Chris Patrick was killed on a worksite being prepared for a carpark at Karratha Airport in 2014 when a heavy duty grader reversed over him.

She told The West Australian the following WorkSafe investigation had felt like a tick-the-box exercise after no prosecutions were brought forward.

WA families who have lost loved ones to workplace deaths at State Parliament.
WA families who have lost loved ones to workplace deaths at State Parliament. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

“I was only 25 when it happened and I was living with Chris up in the Pilbara … I was basically left to navigate the legal system myself,” she said.

“I pursued a civil action and it was those lawyers who found the safety procedures weren’t followed on site.

“Although we settled out of court that was through the road registration insurance.

“I’m hoping with the introduction of the industrial manslaughter laws that even the investigations and investigators will become more accountable to the law.”

The new legislation, which has already passed the Lower House of Parliament, would mean individuals could face fines as much as $5 million and 20 years imprisonment for causing the death of someone on a worksite, while body corporates could be fined up to $10 million.

Industrial manslaughter has been defined under two different categories in the Bill — “crime” and a “simple offence” — which has been done so the charge can be heard in Supreme, District and Magistrates courts.

WA families who have lost loved ones to workplace deaths at State Parliament.
WA families who have lost loved ones to workplace deaths at State Parliament. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

A submission to the inquiry from the Master Builders Association of WA said both categories should be rejected by the Parliament for going too far compared with other States.

“The industrial manslaughter provisions go much further than capturing gross negligence causing death,” it said.

The submission suggested the “simple offence” category was worded too broadly and would not require evidence of negligence or recklessness for a prosecution to go ahead.

“It also puts employers at risk of prosecution for actions by employees that they may not be directly involved with or even aware of,” the submission said.

MBAWA executive director John Gelavis wrote it was concerned the laws would have a significantly detrimental effect on safety in workplaces.

“Master Builders instead fully supports a proactive education and regulatory program to see meaningful change and support the co-operative approach required to achieve safety outcomes,” he wrote.

Several major organisations have backed MBAWA’s stance while others such as the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA are in favour of industrial manslaughter laws but not the “simple offence” provision.

Regan Ballantine whose son Wesley was killed at work.
Regan Ballantine whose son Wesley was killed at work. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

Families Left Behind spokeswoman Regan Ballantine said it was concerned the Bill could be watered down.

“A broad wording of an offence is important so that prosecutions can occur,” she said. “I think when you have very explicit terminology in the legislation it can actually create a situation where an offence can’t be prosecuted.”

“Manslaughter offenders escape prosecution for the simple fact that an offence for manslaughter does not exist in the laws which govern the workplace.

“Justice balances the scales and it doesn’t leave families with the soul destroying experience of feeling like our loved ones were treated like their life was meaningless because that’s what’s occurred for all of us.”