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A sweeping review of workplace health and safety in Queensland was prompted by the investigation into two multiple fatalities which took place only weeks apart, and led to the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter laws which are set to change the fabric of health and safety in Queensland and perhaps nationally.
The first of these was the multiple fatality incident at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast just over 12 months ago where two men and two women were killed on the Thunder River Rapids ride when the ride malfunctioned, throwing two people out and trapping two inside.
The second was just few weeks later at a construction site at Eagle Farm Racecourse, where two workers were killed by a falling slab of concrete while they were working on a major redevelopment of the stables. The investigation into this matter resulted in the builder being personally charged with two counts of criminal manslaughter.
The Queensland Government has moved quickly to undertake a wide-ranging review which resulted in a report being released in July 2017.
As a result, the “Work Health and Safety and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 (Qld)” was introduced into Parliament one month later and on 23 October 2017, the bill was debated, passed and assented to on the same day, making it law.
The legislation introduces significant changes to workplace health and safety, most notably, the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter as an offence under the WHS Act in Queensland. The legislation introduces the offence where a person:
Maximum penalties for those found to have breached the new industrial manslaughter provisions are:
These are significantly higher than the maximum penalties previously available for reckless breaches of the work health and safety legislation, being $3 million and/or five years’ imprisonment.
The Act also removes the limitation period on prosecution action for industrial manslaughter, which will greatly impact upon long term illness which may result in death or long-term debilitating illnesses such as mesothelioma asbestosis and cancers. The industrial manslaughter offence can now capture Officers regardless of where they live as long as the incident occurred in Queensland, meaning they can be extradited from overseas and interstate and matters will be heard as a criminal offence by a jury.
Other aspects of the new legislation are:
Further aspects of the legislation come into force from 1 July 2018. These are:
Another recommendation resulting from the review is a potential prohibition against entering into insurance policies which insure against work health and safety penalties. It is yet to be confirmed whether this recommendation will be adopted.
These changes demonstrate how seriously work health and safety obligations are taken by governments and regulators across the country and we are expecting regulators to clamp down further ahead of 1 July 2018 and in light of the review of the model work health and safety legislation which is due to commence in 2018. As such, it is vital that businesses ensure they are adequately addressing their work health and safety obligations and getting their work health and safety matters in order now.
Employsure can assist businesses in addressing their health and safety obligations through its Work Health and Safety service. Call Employsure on 1300 651 415 for more information on adding this service to your current offering.