20 April 2020

Crane driver avoids jail over UC Hospital worksite death

| Ian Bushnell
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University of Canberra Hospital worksite

The University of Canberra Hospital worksite on the night of 4 August 2016 after a crane toppled over killing Herman Holtz, 62. Photo: ACT Police.

The crane driver involved in the death of a worker on the University of Canberra Hospital construction site in 2016 has received a suspended jail sentence.

The ACT Supreme Court today handed down the sentence to Michael Watts after nine parties, including seven people and two companies, were charged by WorkSafe ACT in April 2018 with multiple offences.

The head contractor on the project was Multiplex Constructions and the subcontractor was RAR Cranes.

The charges came after what WorkSafe ACT said was a long and complex investigation into the death of Herman Holtz, 62, which occurred while a mobile crane at the site was moving a large generator and overturned.

Mr Watts pleaded guilty to a high-level breach of work health and safety legislation on 12 February 2020 and today was sentenced by Chief Justice Helen Murrell to 20 months’ imprisonment reduced to 12 months with a 40 per cent discount for an early plea and cooperation. The 12 months’ imprisonment sentence will be wholly suspended.

He had originally been charged with manslaughter.

WorkSafe ACT said the maximum penalty for an individual under this Category One offence for failing to comply with a duty exposing persons to a risk of serious injury or death under WHS legislation is $300,000, five years’ imprisonment or both.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Greg Jones said the outcome was a very strong reminder to the industry that workplace safety must be the number one priority and all efforts must be made to keep workers safe.

“Every supervisor, manager and director on any worksite must continually review and mitigate workplace risks. They also need to ensure their workers understand and follow all safety systems and procedures so they can do their job safely.

“The consequences and penalties for failing to meet safety obligations and responsibilities are far too high to be complacent.”

WorkSafe ACT would continue its strong approach to compliance and enforcement to ensure all workplaces were doing the right thing to keep their workers safe from harm, he said.

Mr Jones acknowledged the difficult time that Mr Holtz’s family has faced since their tragic loss including an emotional day in court providing victim impact statements.

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