Employers be warned: Workplace manslughter laws are now in effect

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On 1 July 2020, the Victorian Government reminded workplaces that with strict new legislation, Workplace Manslaughter is now a criminal offence. Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy said, “If the negligence of an employer costs someone their life, they will be charged and will go to jail — that’s the law now.”

The offence applies to employers, self-employed individuals and ‘officers’. It also applies when negligent action by an employer causes the death of a member of the public.

In addition, the Government is fulfilling its pledge to reform occupational safety in Victoria by widening the requirements that describe workplace death.

Fatalities occurring on the road while employed, suicides due to a health and safety failure in the workplace, deaths from occupational illnesses such as silicosis, and deaths in the workplace arising from a criminal act will all be recognised in the WorkSafe toll count from 1 July 2020.

What You Need to Know about the Workplace Manslaughter Laws

  • Industrial murder is now a criminal offence.
  • Could result in imprisonment for a maximum term of 20 years.
  • $16.5 million maximum fine.
  • Applies to deaths of workers and non-employees.
  • It is possible to charge employers, self-employed individuals and ‘officers’ of a company or organisation.

In Victoria, a person will be found guilty of manslaughter at work where they:

  1. Participate in action that is negligent; and
  2. That conduct amounts to a violation of an OHS obligation owed to another individual; and
  3. The action causes the other person’s death.

The laws are backed by a $10 million package to strengthen occupational safety investigations and compliance, including a specialist WorkSafe team to lead inquiries and prosecutions, and two new WorkSafe Victoria Family Liaison Officers to provide further assistance to families.

Why this change was introduced

“Twenty-four people died in a workplace incident in 2019, 24 families, groups of friends and communities who lost a loved one, a friend, a teammate or a colleague,” WorkSafe Chief Executive Colin Radford noted. 

He also went on to state, “There are no reasons to place the lives of staff at risk and WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute those who do.”

With 49,771 visits completed and 14,939 health and safety compliance notices released, more WorkSafe inspections were carried out than ever before in 2019, and we expect this trend to continue.

The Victorian Government is hiring an additional 40 specialist building inspectors by 2022 to implement the occupational manslaughter legislation. 

What you need to do

The legislation highlights a strong emphasis on a compliance culture. High-risk practises and OHS risk control management policies, processes and management plans should be checked and amended to ensure that they comply with existing requirements for reasonably practicable controls. It is also important to integrate a safety culture, including casuals and contractors, from management and employees.

Colin Radford, chief executive of WorkSafe, said a single death in the workplace was one too many. “When it comes to occupational safety, there is absolutely no reason for cutting corners. All employees must take time to adequately evaluate health and safety risks in the workplace and prepare how to reduce or handle them, since it can be catastrophic to fail to do so.” The bottom line is that this change in legislation came into effect on 1 July, 2020. In order to protect your staff and yourself, you need to have the correct OHS systems in place.

Moving forward

Mark Stipic Consulting are trusted advisors to business owners and senior decision-makers at employers, reducing the affect injuries, claims and premiums.

When you’re ready, here are two ways Mark Stipic Consulting can help you and your business take control of your WorkCover situation:

  1. Get a copy of Mark’s book WorkCover that Works. It will show you how to reduce your injuries, claims and WorkCover premiums.
  2. Request a free, no obligation 30-minute strategy call. Mark will help you address your most pressing challenges and connect you with potential solutions.
  • 6 November 2020