A magistrate said it would be a legal error to take into account personal suffering when sentencing a company for a breach of safety regulations that lead to its director's death.
Horsham Back-Hoe Hire director Simon Rigby, 56, was crushed when a wall collapsed onto him during demolition work on a property in Mount Pleasant on September 11, 2019.
His wife Leanne Rigby is also a director of the family business and represented the company with her son, who is an employee, at the Ballarat Magistrates' Court via video link on Friday.
Horsham Back-Hoe Hire pleaded guilty to failing to establish and maintain an exclusion zone around the live demolition area, in breach of workplace health and safety regulations.
Defence barrister Eliza Holt provided character references to the court that showed Mr and Mrs Rigby were well respected in the community.
The court heard the couple, who had been together for 38 years, started the family business as a partnership in 1998.
This company and family have paid the highest penalty and punishment.Eliza Holt, defence barrister
Ms Holt said it was a 'very difficult' and 'sad' plea to make and there was a lot of emotion involved in the case.
"Clearly there is a huge amount of remorse by the company," she said.
"This company and family have paid the highest penalty and punishment."
The court heard Horsham Back-Hoe Hire had won a contract to complete the demolition work of a single story brick house in Kenworthy Place.
Mr Rigby and another employee had set up temporary fencing and danger signs at the site.
The employee was on the other side of the house when he saw Mr Rigby walk to the opposite side and then heard the brick wall collapse.
A Victoria Police first responder viewed CCTV footage which depicted Mr Rigby pushing over a timber support structure which had been erected to support the front brick wall of the premises.
WorkSafe issued a safety improvement notice to the company after the incident.
Ms Holt said the company amended its safe work method statement to include putting up barriers preventing access to live demolition sites.
Ms Holt said Horsham Back-Hoe Hire had an independent consultant assess its occupational health and safety systems since 2013, which showed it did have a high regard for safety.
She submitted the magistrate should take into account extra-curial punishment and a modest fine and no conviction was an appropriate sentence.
Workcover Victoria prosecutor Amelia Beech said the company's disregard for safety was high as there were other uncharged safety breaches at the site and another employee was at risk.
She said the establishment of an exclusion zone would have been easy to implement and the risk of wall collapse would have been well-known to Mr Rigby.
"General deterrence is the most important of the principles outlined in the sentencing act in this case," she said.
Magistrate Ron Saines said it would be an error by law to have a 'great deal of regard' for Mrs Rigby and her family's personal suffering when sentencing the company.
"To do so would be a legal error. This is the human challenge for a sentencing judicial officer," he said.
Mr Saines said there was a strong set of circumstances to record a conviction.
The hearing was adjourned for Mr Saines to examine prosecution and defence materials and the law.
He will hand down his sentence in July.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Wimmera Mail-Times, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling your stories. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.