Department of Defence charged with WHS breaches, faces up to $4.5m in fines

By Stephen Easton

Friday May 10, 2019

The Department of Defence faces three charges of breaching the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act over the death of soldier Jason Challis during a training exercise in mid-2017.

Each charge carries a maximum fine of $1.5 million, as a category 2 offence under the act. The matter will be heard in Darwin Local Court on June 11.

The tragic accident occurred during a live-fire exercise at the Mount Bundey Training Area, south-east of Darwin, described as “shambolic” in a report by the Northern Territory Coroner Greg Cavenagh earlier this year.

The decision by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute follows an investigation by the federal WHS regulator and workers’ compensation insurer, Comcare.

In a statement today, Comcare said the three charges “relate to alleged failures including an unsafe work environment, unsafe system of work and inadequate training”.

Cavenagh concluded the fatal shooting resulted from “a ‘systemic failure’ in the true sense of that phrase” on the part of the whole chain of command. This included inadequate training, a long-held mindset that such exercises had to be as realistic as possible, and a failure to implement new requirements for safety rehearsals before live-fire exercises, which were brought in after a previous fatal training accident in 2009.

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