Negligent employers face jail under new workplace manslaughter laws

| October 29, 2019
Workplace manslaughter will become a criminal offence, under tough new legislation introduced in Victorian Parliament today.

As many as 30 people are killed in workplaces across the state every year, with 19 people having already lost their lives so far in 2019.

Under the proposed new laws, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.

Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said workplace manslaughter was made a criminal offence because no person should die at work.

“All workers deserve a safe workplace and the proposed laws send a clear message to employers that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated.

“I cannot begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work.”

The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the employers.

The legislation will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public – ensuring that all Victorians are safe in, and around, our workplaces.

WorkSafe Victoria will investigate the new offence using their powers under the OHS Act to ensure employers can be prosecuted – making clear that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Mark Stone said  the laws will disproportionately impact small business.

“Put simply, the operators of smaller enterprises are more likely to have a ‘hands on’ role in the business. Overseas experience has shown that they will likely bear the brunt of these laws.

“We need laws that that are equitable and that do not just target small business.

“We also need more education and support for business to help them focus on prevention and provide the safest possible workplaces, and for WorkSafe to ensure its officials are prepared to manage the complexities of a manslaughter case (currently, manslaughter investigations are conducted by highly trained Victoria Police Officers).

“Employers look forward to working with the Government, opposition and cross bench to ensure that these laws are fair and equitable and that they deliver improved workplace safety outcomes,” Mr Stone said.

Maurice Blackburn workplace injury lawyer Azmeena Hussain said these new laws will hold employers to account for putting workers lives at risk, and no longer will negligent systems of work be tolerated in this state.

“All Victorian employers should now be aware that if they don’t put safety first they will be held to account.

“As a workplace safety lawyer who has acted for families whose loved ones have died at work, I know only too well the impact losing a loved one in preventable circumstances can have. This is something no one should have to endure, so these new laws should be commended,” Mr Hussain said.

Earlier this year, the government announced a Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce to help develop the tough new laws.

Led by Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety Natalie Hutchins, the taskforce included members and representatives from business, unions, industry and victims’ families.

The Taskforce was supported by a Families’ Reference Group, which was made up of a number of families who have been impacted by a workplace death.