New industrial manslaughter laws are no laughing matter for employers
By Yoni Ungar
2 December 2019
In late November, the Victorian State Government passed new laws making workplace manslaughter a criminal offence.
What are the laws?
The new laws will be applicable to all employers, self-employed individuals and officers of a company or organisation.
It will be an offence to engage in conduct that is negligent that causes the death of another person. The new laws offer greater protection to the public at large and will apply when an employer’s negligent conduct (including their inactions) causes the death of employees as well as non-employees. This is aimed to ensure that employers promote safety in and around their workplaces. The new offence will cover negligent conduct that causes the death of people such as workers, suppliers, visitors, passers-by, neighbours and any other members of the public.
Under the new laws, negligent conduct is defined as:
“a great falling short of the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the circumstances in which the conduct was engaged in; and
causes a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness.”
There is a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 20 years for officers or a fine of up to $16.5 million for employers. Possible offences will be investigated by WorkSafe Victoria.
The new laws could be particularly relevant for employers in the construction industry as well as for workplaces that involve the use of heavy machinery and vehicles, farming and industrial sites and even workplaces where employees are subject to stress and may be at risk due to issues with mental health.
What can employers do?
The new legislation amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and will come into effect from 1 July 2020.
In preparation for the new laws, we suggest that employers should all be undertaking the following steps:
- Review OHS systems to identify and mitigate risks, develop policies and procedures, allocate responsibilities to individuals and promote a safe and educated workforce.
- Review or create risk assessment and actions plans for incidents.
- Ensure that officers and key individuals are appropriately selected, trained, reviewed and evaluated. All key individuals should be aware of the OH&S risks in the workforce and should be well equipped to deal with any risk or to respond appropriately to any incident.
- Ensure that machinery, vehicles, equipment and all workplaces materials are fit for purpose, maintained adequately, handled safely and kept in secure locations.
- Review workplace leadership and culture to ensure that safety is adequately promoted and treated as paramount.
Dozens of Victorians are killed in workplaces across the state each year – it is imperative that employers take their obligations seriously and take proactive steps to ensure that all individuals in and around their workplaces are as safe and secure as possible.
The material contained in this publication is meant to be informational only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Tisher Liner FC Law will not be held liable or responsible for any claim, which is made as a result of any person relying upon the information contained in this publication.
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