Construction company cops $1.3m fine for contractor forklift death

Jarrod Brown
By Jarrod Brown
4 Min Read

A Victorian company has been fined $1.3m for workplace manslaughter after a man was crushed to death by a negligent forklift operator. 

On October 21, 2021, Laith Hanna was driving a forklift at his stonemasonry business in Melbourne’s north when he – against safety regulations – attempted to reverse down a slope and lower a large steel rack.

Subcontractor Michael Tsahrelias, 25, was standing near the machine and was trying to steady the load when it tipped over and crushed him.

Hearing the man cry for help, Hanna and Mr Tsahrelias’s father rushed over to help, but the injured man could not be saved.

Hanna, who held a forklift licence, told police he knew the load should be centred and not driven onto a slope.

“I never thought it’d be that dangerous,” he later told WorkSafe investigators. 

Justice Michael Croucher said the “harrowing” incident was captured on security cameras in the company’s warehouse and from across the street.

“Within an instant, it was past the point of no return,” he said.

Over two years after the accident, Hanna and his company have now been convicted in the states first ever workplace manslaughter case, and his company was ordered to pay a $1.3 million fine imposed by the Supreme Court.

Hanna will also pay $120,000 in compensation to Mr Tsahrelias’s family and complete two years of unpaid community work.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the worker’s tragic death was entirely preventable.

“There is no such thing as unavoidable workplace harm and the impact that a loss of life has on family, friends and colleagues can never be understated,” Dr Beer said.

“This prosecution is a clear reminder to duty holders of the serious personal and financial consequences they face if they engage in activity that puts the health and safety of workers at risk.”

Lawyer for Mr Tsahrelias’ family, Tony Carbone, said they wanted employers to stop taking risks to avoid further tragedies.

“Don’t leave anything to chance. Just stop (and) think, ‘is everyone clear? Is it safe?’ he told reporters outside of the court.

“No penalty is ever going to assist this family with getting on with their lives because they’ve lost a very important member of their family.”

If death occurs onsite where workers are placed at high risk, negligent employers could face a maximum penalty of 25 years’ jail and fines in excess of $16 million for companies.

When using a forklift, employees should…

  • Put a traffic management plan in place to separate pedestrians and powered mobile plants and ensure that it is reviewed and updated as required.
  • Ensure there is an effective communication system between operators and other workers, including any contractors.
  • Erect signage and barriers where appropriate.
  • Identify and control visibility issues, particularly if lighting is poor.
  • Provide operators with adequate information, instruction and training and work in accordance with an appropriate high-risk work licence.
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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.