Tragic incidents, including deaths at Eagle Farm and Dreamworld, costing six people their lives, have heralded tough new industrial manslaughter laws, introduced in Queensland last year.
The new laws mean that senior executives can now be charged with the offence of industrial manslaughter if someone dies at their workplace.
The new laws attract lengthy jail time and significant fines, with the maximum penalty being 20 years imprisonment and the maximum fine $10 million for a corporate offender.
The new law creates two new offences of industrial manslaughter – “an employer” and a “senior officer” offence. These offences relate to circumstances when:
- A worker dies, or is injured and later dies, during the course of their work
- The person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), or a senior officer’s conduct, whether by act or omission, causes the death of a worker
- The PCBU or senior officer was negligent about causing the death of the worker by their conduct.
Key features of the industrial manslaughter laws include:
- The mining sector is presently exempt
- Volunteers are exempt, however a senior officer of an unincorporated association may commit an offence under the law
- The laws only apply in the case of a death of a worker, as opposed to the death of any person. A senior officer is defined broadly as any person who is concerned with, or takes part in, the corporation’s management. This is regardless of whether the person is a director or the person’s position is given the name of executive officer
- The standard of criminal negligence applies in that a person will be found negligent where there is conduct that departs from the standard of care expected to avoid danger to life, health and safety, and the conduct substantially contributed to death.
Implications for Queensland companies, employers and management.
The new laws do not alter an employer’s obligations under the Workplace Health and Safety Act or the need for “officers” to exercise due diligence.
Workers still have obligations to take reasonable care that any of their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other people.
However, companies will need to consider the more broad definition of “senior officers”. This means they should take steps to identify their “senior officers” and to understand their responsibilities under the new law.
It may also be an opportune time to review their safety management systems to ensure they have the appropriate mechanisms in place to minimise the potential for risks that pose a potential fatality hazard.