The new Victorian workplace manslaughter laws which came into effect on 1 July 2020, ensure that employers will face more severe consequences should they neglect their duty of care. Increasing national attention to workplace manslaughter has also led to Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory introducing harsher penalties. The newly legislated changes do not present additional duties for organisations, but instead focus on compliance and repercussions of negligence.
The new legislation applies specifically to any employer, duty holder or organisational officer whose conduct is negligent and breaches the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, causing the death of someone who was owed a duty of care – usually an employee.
An organisation or individual can be tried on a count of workplace manslaughter even when the death has occurred sometime after the negligent conduct in question. A common instance of this would be when an employee develops a cancer related to negligent asbestos exposure during their work.
The new legislation increases the magnitude of penalty faced by any organisation or individual convicted of workplace manslaughter. From 1 July, a conviction in Victoria will result in a penalty of:
- A maximum of 25 years imprisonment for individuals; and
- A maximum fine of $16.5 million for body corporates.
Brisbane Auto Recycling Case
Brisbane Auto Recycling was the subject of the first Australian industrial manslaughter conviction in June, thus playing a pivotal role in drawing national attention to the offence. In May 2019, a Brisbane Auto Recycling employee succumbed to his injuries in hospital after being crushed by a reversing forklift. The conviction led to a $3,000,000 penalty for the company, while each of its two directors were sentenced to 10 months – though the sentences were suspended in their entirety.
Businesses need to implement a specific strategy to help their organisation continuously improve its safety procedures. A strategy in place will create and maintain effective communication channels that then facilitate the reporting and mitigation of any safety incidents or hazards. Organisations must be diligent in their development, application and execution of their occupational health and safety strategies. Companies faced with an occupational health and safety issue or disaster will find their reputation damaged – harm is not just limited to the financial and legal impact.
Adherence to workplace health and safety is important for any organisation, as all have a duty of care to their employees. The development of comprehensive workplace health and safety procedures is critical to employee safety and organisational compliance. Making sure that every employee is familiar with workplace health and safety practices and protocols will help in minimising issues. If you require assistance in this or are seeking advice about any of the above matters, get in touch with Morrows Human Resources Consulting and Advisory.