A Victorian company has been fined $1.3 million in the state’s first workplace manslaughter prosecution. The devastated family of Michael Tsahrelias wiped away tears outside court on Monday after Laith Hanna was sentenced for operating a forklift that crushed the 25-year-old to death in October 2021.

Mr Tsahrelias was working with his father at Hanna’s company, Universal Stone and Marble at Somerton in Melbourne’s north, while Hanna was driving a forklift carrying a loaded metal A-frame rack.

Hanna – against safety standards – turned the forklift on a downhill slope while carrying the load as it was suspended about two metres above the ground.

“Within an instant, it was past the point of no return,” Supreme Court Justice Michael Croucher said.

Mr Tsahrelias tried to steady the load before the forklift lost balance, tipping over and crushing him.

Hanna screamed for help and the 25-year-old’s father Steve Tsahrelias found him under the machine.

Hanna, now 47, was among those who attempted to revive the man but he died at the scene.

The whole incident was captured in what the judge described as harrowing CCTV.

Hanna – described as a “dedicated family man” – had a forklift licence and told police he knew the load should be centred and not driven onto a slope.

Hanna said he didn’t know how Mr Tsahrelias ended up so close to the machine when it tipped over. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

However, he said: “The slope there, where this happened, I never thought it would be that dangerous.”

Hanna told Mr Tsahrelias to back away from the forklift and did not know how the 25-year-old ended up so close to the machine when it tipped over, he said.

The judge questioned how Hanna could have not seen the young man and tearfully reflected on the loss to Mr Tsahrelias’ family – from his mother, who has had suicidal thoughts since his death, to his sister who visited her brother’s grave every day for a year.

“Neither she, nor her family, will ever be the same again,” Justice Croucher said.

He sentenced Hanna to a two-year community corrections order, under which he will have to complete 200 hours of community service.

Hanna will also have to complete a forklift operation course.

The judge fined Hanna’s company, LH Holding Management Pty Ltd, $1.3 million – significantly more than it currently brings in. Hanna has been handed a two-year community corrections order, with 200 hours of community service. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Hanna is the company’s director and sole shareholder.

Lawyer for Mr Tsahrelias’ family Tony Carbone said they wanted employers to stop taking risks to avoid further tragedies.

“(Hanna) had the opportunity to stop and see where (Mr Tsahrelias was),” Mr Carbone told reporters outside court.

“Don’t leave anything to chance. Just stop (and) think, ‘is everyone clear? Is it safe?'”

Hanna will also pay $120,000 in compensation to his family. He previously paid $16,000 for Mr Tsahrelias’ funeral.

WorkSafe executive director Narelle Beer said the 25-year-old’s death was entirely preventable.

“There is no such thing as unavoidable workplace harm and the impact that a loss of life has on family, friends and colleagues can never be understated,” Dr Beer said.

The workplace manslaughter prosecution is Victoria’s first after laws were introduced in 2020.

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Source: AAP