Defence fined over soldier’s death in training exercise (Media release)
20 August 2015
The Australian Defence Force has been fined $220,000 for breaching federal workplace health and safety laws over the fatal shooting of a soldier in a training exercise.
In the Federal Court in Canberra, Justice Lindsay Foster found the ADF had breached the former federal Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 in relation to the death of Lance Corporal Mason Edwards.
Following a case brought by federal work health and safety regulator Comcare, Justice Foster found the ADF had failed to provide a safe workplace and adequate safety training and systems under the OHS Act, since replaced by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
The maximum penalty available under the OHS Act was $242,000.
Lance Corporal Edwards, a special forces soldier, suffered a fatal gunshot wound during the night exercise at the Cultana Training Area near Whyalla, South Australia, on 20 October 2009.
A second soldier was wounded when he was hit by three rounds – two striking his helmet and causing no injury, and the third deflecting off his rifle and into his left arm.
Justice Foster's findings included that the safety manual for the exercise was inadequate, there was no system to evaluate the effectiveness of safety procedures, and safety personnel were not properly briefed.
In his judgement, Justice Foster acknowledged that Defence had taken 'serious and considered steps' to minimise the risk to soldiers in such exercises.
'However, I cannot ignore the catastrophic consequences of the Commonwealth's neglect,' Justice Foster said. 'Nor can I ignore the fact that the contravention was nonetheless serious.'
Comcare Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Taylor said the case reinforced the need for employers to take every practicable step to ensure the safety of their workforce.
'This is particularly important for work that is inherently dangerous, as is the case with many tasks performed by Defence personnel,' Ms Taylor said.
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