Both the Victorian and NSW Labour parties have committed to legislate for a new criminal offence of Workplace Manslaughter if elected. This follows the lead of the ACT, Queensland and the UK who all have Industrial Manslaughter Laws in place already. The legislation will be designed to severely punish companies and employers with higher fines and significant jail time.
NSW Labor believes that there are still too many deaths in NSW workplaces and that more is needed to be done to prevent them. They plan to significantly increase work safety law compliance and enforcement. Their laws would be the toughest in Australia with a 25 year jail sentence for employers responsible for workplace deaths. In Victoria it would be a 20 year sentence and fines up to $15 million.
The Trade Union movement in Victoria supports Premier Andrew’s election promise and has launched a campaign to ‘Make industrial manslaughter a crime”. The Victorian Trades Hall wants negligent employers to be charged with industrial manslaughter when a person is killed at work. They have an online petition running at www.megaphone.org.au that wants to punish big corporations who are negligent and force them to take safety seriously.
Whilst the official figure is that 26 workers died in Victoria over the past year, the union movement believes that the statistics provided by WorkSafe do not take into account workers killed by occupational disease, in accidents in transit or people working on their own. They believe that more than 200 workers were killed in Victoria over the past year in relation to their work.
If elected, the new laws proposed by Daniel Andrews will see employers whose negligence leads to the death of an employee face fines of almost $15 million whilst individuals responsible for negligently causing death will be held to account and face up to 20 years in jail. WorkSafe will be responsible for prosecuting employers who do the wrong thing and will be given the powers and resources needed to carry out justice.
The ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce the offence of industrial manslaughter back in 2004. A company can be convicted of industrial manslaughter for neglect that’s attributable to a group of people whilst any manager who has presided over that culture can be sentenced to a prison term.
In Queensland they only passed industrial manslaughter laws late in 2017 and these were in response to the deaths of four people at the Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast in October 2016, and the deaths of two workers at the Eagle Farm racecourse earlier that year.
The current Royal Commission into the banking and financial industry in Australia has shocked people with its revelations of illegal activity and immoral and unethical practices. This is bound to translate to closer focus on what companies are doing in the future.
We know that we have a moral, social and ethical obligation to keep people safe and healthy at work. Now is the time to show leadership and commitment by ensuring that the health and safety of employees, visitors and members of the public affected by activities is an essential part of risk management and supported by the board and top management.
Taking a lead from the UK where manslaughter laws were introduced in 2008, there are 3 essential principles to follow:
Smart employers don’t need manslaughter laws to keep them on the straight and narrow. They already understand the enormous benefits that a commitment to good health and safety bring to their organisation:
Don’t wait for manslaughter laws to really take workplace health and safety seriously. Be proactive and make it a key focus in all areas of your business. The benefits far outweigh the costs.
Do you have an OHS Management System in place?