By Leigh Johnston
The Western Australian Labor government has announced a new workplace safety bill to provide for the criminal offence of industrial manslaughter.
An industrial manslaughter offence would attach criminal responsibility to negligent conduct by the employer, a director, or officer of the employer that causes death to a worker. Business operators could face a 20-year prison sentence or fines of up to $10 million.
The laws were part of a $12.9 million workplace safety package announced by Premier Mark McGowan at Labor’s annual state conference.
As well as two new offences to be introduced into the state’s workplace safety laws, Mr McGowan said they would hire 21 new workplace safety inspectors to investigate fatal and serious incidents, with the government buying more vehicles to lift the number of workplace inspections.
According to Mr McGowan, industrial manslaughter would provide an incentive to businesses with poor practices to improve – and would be an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for corporations and individuals making high-level decisions within corporations.
“Negligent or reckless employers must be held accountable for the conditions in their workplaces,” he said at the conference.
“The majority of employers and managements who do the right thing need not fear these laws in any way but life is too precious not to set a high bar.”
“Jail time is a powerful deterrent and it sends a strong message,” he said.
Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston said the changes would bring WA into line with the national model and help reduce costs and unnecessary duplication of processes.
“Our work health and safety laws haven’t been updated since 1984 and are long overdue for change,” he said.
“In the interest of employers and employees, this bill will broadly harmonise with the national model to deliver a common approach to occupational health and safety across various jurisdictions.
“The coming week will see the release of the consultation material for the regulations package covering general industry, mining industry, and the petroleum sector.”
Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammat said the measures would “save lives and prevent injuries.”
“If passed, WA will be among the first Australia jurisdicitions to deal with work fatalities with the seriousness it deserves,” she said.
Industrial manslaughter offences presently only exist in the Australian Capital Territory (since 2003) and Queensland (since 2018). NSW, with the highest rate of workplace deaths in Australia, is still to announce a firm position on the issue.
It will be an offence of negligent conduct causing death of a worker, supplier, contractors, and routine maintenance workers. In Queensland, the offence only applies where there is the death of a worker.
According to Employsure, business operators are on notice to consider whether their organisation’s WHS systems address their duties. Employsure recommends all employers to keep an eye out for legislative developments across all jurisdictions and stay up to date on how it could impact their organisation.
The laws will be introduced to Parliament before the end of the year.