Judge’s tears after ‘harrowing’ forklift death

Laith Hanna was ordered to pay $120,000 in compensation after Michael Tsahrelias was killed in a workplace incident. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

A Victorian judge has teared up as he imposed a massive penalty for the first-ever prosecution of workplace manslaughter in Victoria.

Laith Hanna, 47, returned before the Supreme Court in Melbourne on Monday after he and his company, LH Holding Management Pty Ltd, were charged by Victoria’s workplace health and safety regulator in October 2022.

Hanna pleaded guilty to a charge of being an officer of a company that committed workplace manslaughter in July last year, while LH Holding pleaded guilty to workplace manslaughter.

Hanna’s business was fined $1.3 million. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

The court was told Hanna owned and operated a stone masonry business in October 2021 when 25-year-old Michael Tsahrelias was crushed by a forklift at a warehouse in Somerton.

Hanna had been driving the forklift and was attempting to move an A-frame rack when the vehicle rolled on a slope.

He would later tell WorkSafe investigators he shouted at Mr Tsahrelias to get back as the forklift began to tilt.

“So yeah, he was in a safe space, I’m not sure what happened,” he said.

“Maybe he panicked or maybe he thought he could hold it.”

The court was told Hanna screamed out for help as Mr Tsahrelias’ father, Steve, rushed out to see his son pinned under the forklift.

A neighbouring business rushed over with a forklift to remove the vehicle and Hanna began CPR but Michael could not be revived.

CCTV captured the incident, which Justice Croucher described as “harrowing”. Picture: Supplied.
CCTV captured the incident, which Justice Croucher described as “harrowing”. Picture: Supplied.

The court was told the 25-year-old worked with his dad out of the same warehouse Hanna was operating from — with the two businesses working together regularly over the past decade.

Handing down his sentence, Justice Michael Croucher said Hanna was engaging in a “very significant departure” from normal forklift practices, by operating with the load 2m above the ground and with Mr Tsahrelais in an unsafe proximity.

He said Hanna had a deep regret over the incident and had provided significant financial assistance to the Tsahrelias family, including paying about $16,900 for Michael’s funeral.

In statements to the court, Michael’s family said the incident had destroyed their lives.

“The impact on Mr Tsahrelias’ family is profound,” Justice Croucher said tearing up.

“I know there is nothing that this court can do to settle and heal their wounds … The sentence imposed is not a reflection of the worth of a young life, it cannot be.”

Laith Hanna declined to comment outside of court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

Justice Croucher handed LH Holding Management Pty Ltd a $1.3 million fine, which he said “well exceeds” the company’s assets.

Hanna was sentenced to a two-year community corrections order with 200 hours of community service and was ordered to pay Mr Tsahrelias’ sister $120,000 in compensation.

Workplace manslaughter was introduced as a charge under new laws by the state government in 2020 and based on the common law standards of criminal negligence.

“It strikes me as very unlikely Mr Hanna will ever be involved in an incident like this again,” Justice Croucher said.

Hanna declined to comment as he left court.