June 23, 2020
Workplace Manslaughter is now a Jailable Offence (Victoria)

Worksafe Victoria will introduce tougher laws to ensure safer workplaces. Effective 1st July 2020 a new criminal offence of workplace manslaughter will be introduced into occupational health and safety laws.

According to Worksafe Victoria in 2019, 27,000 claims were accepted from injured workers and 24 fatalities were tragically recorded in workplace accidents across the state.

In recent times there has been a drive to introduce harsher penalties for employers who are negligent and breach occupational health and safety practices which is unsurprising as there has been a growing number of safety incidents in the resources sector over the past 18 months. Industrial manslaughter laws are not new and have been in place for some years in the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland. The push has been to introduce manslaughter laws in the remaining states.

It is worth noting that currently employers can be prosecuted for breaches of occupational health and safety and workplace fatalities under existing safety legislation and this standpoint is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

The new manslaughter laws are not intended to create additional duties but rather introduce more stringent penalties for non-compliance of existing breaches of occupational health and safety responsibilities. The workplace manslaughter provisions will not operate retrospectively therefore, workplace fatalities that occur after 1st July 2020 will only be contemplated under the new provisions.

The new law is aimed at preventing workplace deaths, encouraging employers to fulfil their Duty of Care and to act as a strong deterrent to those who fail to comply.

So what does this new legislation mean for Victorian employers – simply put employers need to adhere to occupational health and safety practices, assess and mitigate risks and ensure their actions do not cause the death of an employee who is owed the duty.

For those in the excavation industry, a reasonable step in demonstrating Duty of Care towards protecting workers and the community includes lodging a free Dial Before You Dig enquiry to pinpoint the location of buried infrastructure assets prior to any works being undertaken. This pre-excavation step is also outlined in the Worksafe Victoria Excavation Compliance Code; Part 3 Planning Excavation Work, Item 92 Underground Services.

As an employer if you are currently complying with occupational health and safety; after 1st July 2020 no further action is required. The new laws are intended for those who are non-compliant, a strong deterrent for breaches of safety towards those who are owed a duty and death results as a consequence of their employer’s negligence. The penalties if convicted of workplace manslaughter are:

  • a maximum of 25 years imprisonment for individuals; and
  • a maximum fine of $16.5 million for body corporates

The penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence, Victorian employers are now on notice, workplace manslaughter will be not be tolerated.

For more details on Industrial Manslaughter in Victoria visit Worksafe Victoria.