WHO SHOULD READ THIS
- Any person or business, particularly those operating within industries with significant health and safety risks.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
- A Commonwealth Parliamentary committee has recommended that an offence for industrial manslaughter be introduced into the model Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to be adopted across all Australian jurisdictions.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
- Any person or business that engages workers should remain informed about the proposed changes to the law in order to ensure compliance if the work health and safety legislation is amended.
National industrial manslaughter laws
Following the introduction of industrial manslaughter provisions in Queensland in 2017, there has been ongoing debate regarding their utility. In October 2018, the Senate Education and Employment References Committee (Committee) released a report into the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia. In their report, the Committee acknowledged opposing views but ultimately recommended the introduction of these laws at a national level to bolster the current legislative and regulatory framework.
In Queensland, it is an offence for a person conducting a business or undertaking or senior officer to negligently cause the death of a worker. This offence carries a maximum penalty of $10 million for a body corporate and up to 20 years of imprisonment for an individual. The Australian Capital Territory is the only other Australian jurisdiction that currently has a specific industrial manslaughter provision in place, which exists under the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT).
If the Committee's recommendations are adopted, Queensland law would serve as the starting point for the introduction of a nationally consistent industrial manslaughter offence. The Committee's report also placed emphasis on the need for a higher standard of investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths across Australian jurisdictions in the event such an offence is introduced.
The Committee's report made a number of other significant recommendations relevant to work health and safety legislation, including:
- amending the definition of "officer" to capture a wider range of individuals responsible for work health and safety decision-making;
- that a dedicated work health and safety prosecutor be established in each jurisdiction; and
- amending the law in order to allow unions, injured workers and their families to bring prosecutions.
Stakeholders should remain aware of these potential changes, in addition to their current obligations under the work health and safety law to ensure ongoing compliance and effective safety measures within their business or undertaking.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.