Workplace Manslaughter Laws in Victoria
From July 1st, new Workplace Manslaughter Legislation comes into effect for Victorian workers and Employers. It’s a great reminder to both small and large businesses of the importance of keeping employee safety a top priority when running your business.
But it doesn’t just affect business owners, the new legislation is aimed at all people who are obligated to maintain a safe working environment for employees.
- Directors and Secretaries of companies
- Partners of a partnership or joint venture
- The Trustee of a trust, and
- Decision-makers within the business
The main purpose of the new legislation is to prevent workplace death in the future. WorkSafe have also announced that there is a secondary aim for the new legislation - to act as a deterrent for Employers.
“The aim of the new legislation is to create a deterrent effect with the significant penalties that are attached to the provision. It sends a message to the community that if you do not comply with your obligations and somebody dies as a result of your non-compliance, you can be prosecuted and you will be prosecuted for a significant criminal offence.” - Dmitry Rozkin, Director of WorkSafe's Legislation Policy and Information Services.
The Labor Government began to work on the new offence for industrial manslaughter after they were elected in November 2018. Significant consultation took place as part of the process and the Government established a family reference group to give voice to those who had lost a loved one to a work-related death. Their views and issues were a valued part of putting together the new workplace manslaughter legislation.
So, when does it apply?
The new Workplace Manslaughter legislation applies when:
- When the accused owed the victim a duty of care,
- When the accused breached that duty by criminal negligence,
- When the accused is not an Employee or Volunteer,
- The breached duty of care was intentional, and
- The breach caused the victim’s death.
This means that from July 1st, the new offence will come into effect and any fatality that occurs at a worksite, or is connected with the conduct of a business, can be investigated and be scoped as a workplace manslaughter.
Of course, it is a person that would be charged with the offence and this person would be determined as a person who has the means to affect a safe work culture. They might have day-to-day control of the worksite, for example, or the resources to be able to affect the control. This includes people in senior positions, not just business owners.
What are the penalties?
The penalties are a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for individuals, and a maximum fine of $1.6 million for body corporates.
Currently under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for an individual, that recklessly endangers life, the current maximum penalty is up to 5 years imprisonment or a fine of up to $297,000, and for an organisation that breaches the laws it's a fine of up to $3.3 million. This means that the new legislation will have a significant increase and the penalties are a lot more severe.
Examples of Negligent Conduct
Not adequately managing, controlling or supervision Employees, and no reasonable action taken to fix dangerous situations where failing to do so causes high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness.
What Should We Consider Moving Forward?
It’s important to keep in mind that the new workplace manslaughter legislation has added additional consequences to the existing obligations for Employers and those obligations will not change. If your organisation is already complying with WorkSafe obligations, then there is no need to make changes.
In saying that, now is a great time to review and re-evaluate your processes around safety in your organisation, even if your organisation is complying with the new legislation. This is an important reminder that safety should be the priority in the workplace. Employees should feel safe at work and not be at risk of any serious injury or death.
When it comes to safety, we recommend reviewing your work processes on a regular basis to avoid any complacency that may happen over time. Set a reminder every 6 months to thoroughly review your processes and keep safety at the forefront of your mind each and every day. Frequently speak with employees and volunteers about safety standards and what they can do to look out for each other in the workplace.
Safety in the workplace doesn’t stop at physical safety. It’s important to also consider mental health in the workplace. Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy confirmed that the offence will not only apply to deaths resulting from physical injuries, but also certain situations of workplace-associated mental injury leading to suicide. This will help to shine light on the importance of mental health and how it can be affected in the workplace.
If you have any questions regarding the new Workplace Manslaughter Legislation or would like assistance in reviewing safety in your organisation, reach out to us.
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