FINED: Pastor Jonathan Siofele arrives at Ipswich Magistrates Court on behalf of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church in August this year.
FINED: Pastor Jonathan Siofele arrives at Ipswich Magistrates Court on behalf of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church in August this year. Ross Irby

Church fined $450k for tragic death of teenager

A CHURCH has been fined $450,000 after it was found to be responsible for contributing to the death of a teenager during a tree lopping fundraiser.

An Ipswich court found the church had not provided information to its volunteers about the obvious risks involved, nor had it provided any training.

In a written judgment against the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church in Queensland Inc, Magistrate Jason Schubert imposed the fine.

Mr Schubert also ordered the church to pay legal costs of $5843.

The maximum penalty for such offences is $1.5 million.

In August, following a two-day hearing of evidence, Mr Schubert found the church guilty of failing to comply with Workplace Health and Safety duty Category 2, resulting in the death of 14-year-old Lotufou Livingston Sakaria at Bellbird Park on September 25, 2016. Lotufou was struck by a tree branch during a working bee involving the lopping of trees with his family and other church members.

He died in hospital after his life support was switched off.

Mr Schubert said the church had already illustrated remorse by donating $55,000 to the Sakaria family that also covered funeral expenses.

At the time of the accident, Lotufou was with three other volunteers who were guiding a 12m section of tree trunk to the ground when it fell, fatally striking him.

Mr Schubert said it was not disputed there were inadequate safety systems in place for tree-felling activities conducted by the church.

It included a lack of enforcement of exclusion and drop zones, a lack of risk assessment, and insufficient regard to the special needs of child volunteers and lack of training information for volunteers to identify hazards and risks.

"It was not overly onerous for the church to have known about those risks and to have adequately addressed them through practical control measures," he said.

"In conducting tree lopping activities, the risks to the church volunteers including children was plainly foreseeable, as were the consequences of a tree or section of tree falling on someone."

Mr Schubert also sited a Safe Work Australia guide to managing risks of tree trimming and removal, and a children and young worker's code of practice.

"The prosecution submitted that the church failed to adequately train these volunteers and effectively neglected to take responsibility for its health and safety obligations associated with its fundraising activities," he said.

Mr Schubert said he was satisfied that if the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church had recognised and complied with its health and safety duty "it is highly probable that the death of Lotufou Sakaria would not have occurred".

He said there was a need to deter other organisations from failing to comply with their work health and safety duties.