Prosecutions

Pipecon fined after trench tragedy

Civil construction company Pipecon was last week convicted and fined $550,000 following a trench collapse at Ballarat in 2018 in which two young workers were killed.

The company was sentenced in the Ballarat County Court on November 11 after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to provide workers with necessary supervision. 

The workers were laying pipes at a housing development in the Ballarat suburb of Delacombe in March 2018 when the trench collapsed and they were engulfed.

34-year-old Charlie Howkins died at the scene while 21-year-old Jack Brownlee died in hospital the following day.

The court heard it was necessary for Pipecon to have reduced the risks to health and safety by providing supervision to ensure workers did not carry out work in the trench unless battering or benching of the excavation was in place and/or trench shields and manhole cages were used. Read more: WorkSafe media release 

The company was originally charged with further breaches of the OHS Act, including failing to provide a safe workplace - but in a negotiated outcome all other charges apart from that of failing to supervise were dropped. This, and the fine of $550,000, is shocking and not the outcome Charlie and Jack's families had hoped for. Jack's father, Dave, put it plainly: "$275,000 per death seems a little below what you would expect".  

Charlie and Jack's families were instrumental in the campaign for new Industrial Manslaughter laws in Victoria. Thanks to their tireless advocacy, and the solidarity of thousands of union members around Victoria who campaigned with them, other Victorian families will not, hopefully, have to watch other employers get away with manslaughter with a slap on the wrist.

The union movement sends our love and solidarity to Dave, Janine and Lana and their wider families and communities. 

To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.  

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