Industrial Manslaughter Legislation – Should you be worried and how can you avoid ending up in jail?

Have you ever wondered what potentially could happen to you as business owner if there was an accident on your worksite?

Workplace safety laws have been around for many years. They are progressively reviewed by authorities with the aim to have organisations comply  and keep their employees (and others) safe in the workplace. In 2008/2009, a national review took place to have all Australian states work towards a common model for managing workplace safety. A model Workplace Health and Safety Act was subsequently formed and also recently reviewed in 2018. The 2018 review found that “the model WHS laws are, for the most part, working as intended, but they are still settling”.

So why introduce new Industrial Manslaughter laws?

Whilst the harmonisation laws did bring about improvements in workplace health and safety practices, there are still organisations who remain ignorant to, or fail to comply with, the existing laws. The first prosecution has begun in QLD for a company who failed in their duties and resulted in the death of a worker.

Should I be worried?

If you are a person responsible who owes applicable duties to ensure the heath and safety of another person in the workplace, should you be worried? Absolutely, particularly as the penalties for “negligent conduct” can be up to 20 years in prison and/or up to a $16.5 million fine for corporations. But there are certain conditions that need to comply to prove a case of Workplace manslaughter, and that all of the elements of the offence need to be proven.

What should I do?

Most people would agree that the health & safety of all persons in the workplace is important. So what should an organisation do to avoid the possibility of a conviction?

The first step is to be aware of your legal obligations. In summary, you need to:

  • Provide and maintain safe plant (machinery & equipment)
  • Provide and maintain safe systems of work (for example, controlling entry to high risk areas and providing systems to prevent falls from heights).
  • Ensure the safe use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances
  • Keep workplaces that you manage and control in a safe condition, free of risks to health (for example, ensure fire exits aren’t blocked, and the worksite is generally tidy).
  • Provide suitable facilities for welfare at any workplace you manage and control
  • Give your employees the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
  • Other employer duties

If you aren’t doing some (or any) of the above, it is recommended the second step is to get some assistance to remedy your practices well before the new laws come into practice (at the latest, 1st July 2020 in Victoria). WorkSafe Victoria have some helpful material to assist you to work out if you have a safe workplace.

You owe it to your employees, yourself and others visiting your site to comply with your primary duties of care.

Ignorance is not a defence to avoid ending up in jail. The message is becoming clearer from authorities. Have they got your attention?

Need help. Contact Greenfields Business Advisory

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