A new criminal offence of “industrial manslaughter” has been introduced as part of changes to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Electrical Safety Act 2002 and Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011. The law came into effect on 23 October 2017.
The changes follow a review of work health and safety laws that was conducted following recent high-profile workplace tragedies including those at Dreamworld and Eagle Farm in 2016.
Under the new laws, Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) and senior Officers of a PCBU who are guilty of negligent conduct which causes the death of a worker, will be liable to maximum penalties of 20 years imprisonment for an individual or a fine of $10 million for a company.
A senior officer of a corporation includes a person who is concerned with, or takes part in, the management of the corporation. This could include Directors and Managers.
If the PCBU is not a corporation, a senior officer is the holder of an executive position who makes or participates in making decisions affecting all or a substantial part of the person’s functions.
The new industrial manslaughter offence adds to existing offences which apply to breaches of duty under the Work Health and Safety Act and the Electrical Safety Act. These current offences range from failure to comply with a health and safety duty or electrical duty which attracts a maximum penalty of $500,000.00 for a company and $100,000.00 for an individual, up to the reckless endangering of a person to risk of death or serious injury which attracts a maximum penalty of $3 million for a company and $600,000.00 or 5 years jail for an individual.
The creation of the industrial manslaughter offence provides a timely reminder to company Directors and executive officers to review their current Work Health and Safety systems to ensure that they are sufficient to safeguard their workers and protect themselves from the risk of prosecution.
If you are unfortunate enough to be in a situation where somebody has been injured in your workplace, and you are part of the responsible management for the workplace, we recommend you contact us for urgent advice before answering any questions of investigators who will generally attend the scene very quickly in the case of serious injuries.
There is insurance available that can help minimise the financial impact of a prosecution arising over workplace injuries. It is commonly known as “statutory liability insurance” and/or “directors and management liability insurance”. We strongly recommend employers/business operators hold that insurance. If you need assistance to identify an insurance agent who can answer questions about taking out this type of insurance, contact one of our Solicitors who will be able to assist you.