As an employer, you may face situations where a worker is seriously injured or dies in the workplace. In these circumstances, you may be liable for industrial manslaughter penalties. Industrial manslaughter laws differ between the Australian states. They aim to prevent workplace deaths and deter employers from breaching health and safety duties owed to workers. You must understand how industrial manslaughter offences arise and establish effective work health and safety systems. This will minimise the risk of workplace deaths and incurring severe penalties. This article explains the industrial manslaughter offences and penalties in each state.
Industrial Manslaughter in Australia
New South Wales
The death of a person at work may constitute manslaughter in New South Wales. It is captured by the category of 'gross negligence or reckless conduct'. The offences apply when an employer is grossly negligent or reckless in breaching a health and safety duty owed to a worker and exposes that worker to a risk of death or serious injury or illness.
The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment or 6,925 penalty units (currently $761,750). An individual could face both penalties while a body corporate could face 34,630 penalty units (currently $3,809,300).
The workplace manslaughter offences apply in Victoria when an employer negligently breaches a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker.
The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment for an individual or 100,000 penalty units (currently $16,522,000) for a body corporate.
The industrial manslaughter offences apply in Queensland. It occurs when an employer negligently causes the death (or injury and then death) of a worker while the worker is carrying out work for the business.
The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment for an individual or 100,000 penalty units (currently $13,345,000) for a body corporate. The District Court of Queensland recently convicted an auto wrecking business for industrial manslaughter arising from the injury and death of a worker. The Court imposed a $3,000,000 penalty on the company. It also imposed a suspended 10 months imprisonment term for the directors of the company.
Australian Capital Territory
The industrial manslaughter offences apply in the Australian Capital Territory. They apply when an employer negligently or recklessly causes the death (or injury and then death) of a worker in the course of the worker's employment.
The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment or 2,000 penalty units. This is currently $320,000 for an individual or $1,620,000 for a body corporate, or both.
A court may also require a corporation who is guilty of an industrial manslaughter offence to:
- publicise the offence, the deaths or any penalties imposed (e.g. advertise on television or in a daily newspaper);
- notify certain people of the offence, the deaths or any penalties imposed (e.g. publish a notice in an annual report or distribute a notice to shareholders of the company); or
- carry out a project for the public benefit (e.g. develop and operate a community service).
The industrial manslaughter offences apply in the Northern Territory when an employer intentionally and recklessly or negligently breaches a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker.
The maximum penalty is life imprisonment for an individual or 65,000 penalty units (currently $10,270,000) for a body corporate.
A new bill is currently being considered by the Western Australia state parliament and will likely pass into law soon. The bill proposes two types of industrial manslaughter offences.
Firstly, the 'crime' offence applies when an employer fails to comply with a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker, with the knowledge that their conduct was likely to cause death. The maximum penalty for a 'crime' offence is 20 years imprisonment and a $5,000,000 fine for an individual or a $10,000,000 fine for a body corporate.
Secondly, the 'simple' offence applies when an employer fails to comply with a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker. The maximum penalty for a 'simple' offence is 10 years imprisonment and a $2,500,000 fine for an individual or a $5,000,000 fine for a body corporate.
South Australia and Tasmania
South Australia and Tasmania are not currently planning to introduce specific industrial manslaughter legislation.
Considerations for Employers
In light of the harsh penalties for an industrial manslaughter offence, you should:
- understand the industrial manslaughter laws in your state and stay up to date with any changes in the law;
- support the senior officers and managers of your business to understand and comply with their health and safety duties;
- review and update your work health and safety policies and procedures to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and deaths;
- regularly conduct training sessions and provide information to workers to ensure everyone is aware of their safety risks and obligations;
- ensure that the induction program for new workers covers relevant safety matters;
- prepare and maintain good records on work health and safety matters and incidents and review those records to identify any patterns and areas of risk;
- take a proactive approach to safety matters; and
- foster a culture within your business of taking safety issues seriously.
Employers can be found guilty of industrial manslaughter if you negligently cause the death of a worker in your business. The maximum penalties for industrial manslaughter vary in each state. They can include fines and imprisonment for individuals and fines for body corporates. You should take proactive steps to:
- understand the industrial manslaughter offences;
- communicate work health and safety policies and procedures to workers; and
- keep good records of safety matters to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and deaths.