Victoria’s Industrial Manslaughter Laws Come Into Effect This Week – Business Owners Urged to Take Responsibility

Published June 30, 2020 (last updated July 17, 2020) -
Industrial Warehouse View From Above

Victoria’s new industrial manslaughter laws come into effect this week, reinforcing the need for business owners to show diligence and ensure workers are kept safe, according to Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor.

From 1 July, employers that negligently cause a workplace death could face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals up to 20 years’ jail. It will apply to employers, self-employed people, and “officers” of the employers, including when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public.

“While no amount of money can bring back the life of a loved one, the penalty is intended to reflect the gravity of the matter in the eyes of the Government, regulator and general public,” said Employsure Managing Director Ed Mallett.

“This should certainly be seen as a major deterrent and a wakeup call to businesses. These changes highlight the need for employers to be on top of all health and safety practices, or else risk the possibility of hefty fines and jail time.

“It is more imperative than ever that employers are managing their health and safety risks in a systematic manner and are focused on continuous improvement. All managers and supervisors need to be fully aware of their obligations and responsibilities regarding health and safety.

“The new legislation has come at a time when a lot of business owners will be distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s possible that they won’t be fully across the changes. We’re urging them to get informed and get support to protect themselves, their businesses and their employees.”

Victoria’s maximum jail term for company officers who negligently cause the death of a worker or member of the public will be also extended from 20 to 25 years when the new offence of workplace manslaughter takes effect. The change has resulted from changes to Victoria’s Crimes Act in the re-alignment of a range of manslaughter offences.

What circumstance will workplace manslaughter apply?

WorkSafe Victoria outlines that Workplace manslaughter applies when all elements of the offence are proven:

  • The accused is a body corporate or a person who is not an employee or volunteer
  • The accused owed the victim a duty of care pursuant to sections 21 to 24 or sections 26 to 31 of the OHS Act (this includes duties owed to employees, contractors and members of the public) (applicable duties)
  • The accused breached that duty by criminal negligence in circumstances where there was a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness
  • The act that breached the duty of care was committed consciously and voluntarily
  • The accused’s breach of duty causes the victim’s death.

Workplace manslaughter may apply even when the death of the person occurs sometime after the relevant incident. For example, depending on the circumstances, if an employee develops an asbestos-related disease after an employer exposed them to asbestos without the use of adequate personal protective equipment.

Is your business ready for industrial manslaughter laws?

The legislation focuses on businesses ensuring that they have a culture of compliance where it is highly likely that WorkSafe Victoria’s investigations will target in relation to possible offences of industrial manslaughter. Businesses must have adequate OHS systems in place to ensure employees can work safely but also focus on engagement and a robust safety culture.

“Organisations need to establish a health and safety systematic framework that focuses on continual improvement,” continued Mr. Mallett.

“Managers and supervisors need to be further trained to help them better understand their responsibilities. They’ll need to review all existing policies and procedures, including unwritten practices relating to health and safety.

“All potential hazards and risks in the workplace need to be reviewed, including mental health risks and ensuring that they’re incorporated in the OHS approach. The workplace’s safety systems and controls need to also be checked to ensure they’re fully effective.

“One of the most essential parts of a workplace is the culture. It is up to leadership to review it and ensure all directors, senior officers and managers are educated and aware of what they stand for. Any alleged negligible conduct should be reviewed and acted upon immediately and not permitted by the company.”

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