Manslaughter Conviction of Officer has implications for WHS Due Diligence

In a landmark South Australian case, a major court finding has further cleared the blurry line between diligent management of Work Health and Safety matters and the Crimes Act.

An Adelaide trucking company owner, Peter Francis Colbert has been found guilty of manslaughter and endangering life and jailed for more than 12 years.  He did not exercise due diligence and had failed to repair faulty brakes which led to the death of one of his drivers in March last year.

Robert Brimson was killed when his brakes failed and he hit a pole in Adelaide last year, the 45-year-old sacrificing his own safety to avoid injuring others. The judge said a substantial prison sentence was required to deter other truck companies from dangerous negligence and he imposed a 10-year-old non-parole period as well as banning Mr Colbert from driving indefinitely.

The Judge noted he was the sole director and shareholder of a company called Colbert Transport Pty Ltd and managed the day-to-day affairs and business of that company. He was solely responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the fleet of trucks and the allocation of driving jobs to the employed drivers.

The case highlights the importance of heeding incident and safety reports.  In sentencing, it was noted that previous near miss incidents which had been brought to the Directors attention, should have alerted him to what a reasonable person should know.  That is “sending out a truck with such serious defects is very dangerous and at the very least endangers the life of the driver of that truck.”

The importance of monitoring and effective communication to suppliers was also highlighted, as Colbert also indicated he had relied upon a mechanic to maintain the brakes.

The judge stated “…you assumed that he would maintain the brakes. You said that you did not know anything about the brakes and that you expected the brakes would have been adjusted, but you never inquired about any work done on the braking system.”  This was a serious oversight on Colbert’s part.

It was found that Colbert was fully aware of  the truck’s faulty brakes and had failed to take action. He had systematically ignored his due diligence obligations, near miss reports, safety issues raised by his workers and failed to exercise due diligence or pay any heed to WHS or other laws relating to work or road safety. 

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