Industrial Manslaughter Laws

The Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) as the name suggests, contains extensive provisions aimed at ensuring the health and safety of the workplace.

On 1 July 2020, amendments to the OHS Act creating an offence of “industrial manslaughter” will commence

The community will of course be broadly aware of the criminal offence of manslaughter as it has existed for a great number of years. Many assume that it covers the obvious events that we read about in our newspapers from day to day where a death has occurred as a consequence of criminal acts on the part of another person.

The amendments to the OHS Act broaden the concept of manslaughter within the workplace.

From 1 July 2020, a person may be charged with workplace manslaughter where they have engaged in conduct that is negligent and a breach of duties owed to another person and as a consequence of those breaches a death occurs.

The new provisions apply to both companies and individuals, such as directors or managers.

The penalties are severe. A breach can mean a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment for a Company officer or a person or a fine for a Company of 100,000 penalty units. 100,000 penalty units currently translates to approximately $16,500,000.

It is important to understand that the concept of “negligence” when it comes to industrial manslaughter is different to the general concept we think of in civil cases. In order to constitute negligence for the purposes of the new provisions, the accused’s conduct must involve “a great falling short” of the standard of care a reasonable person would adopt in the circumstances as well as a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness.

The Government in introducing the legislation suggests that it will be applicable for the most serious cases of a breach and obviously where a breach is found those very significant penalties may apply.

As with all the provisions of the OHS Act employers, and in the case of other entities such as companies, directors and managers must pay serious attention to the obligations surrounding the health and safety of employees and ensure that their work practices are sufficiently stringent to mitigate the risks of injury and death occurring in the workplace.

Businesses ought already have in place appropriate policies and procedures and ensure that those policies and procedures are well known to staff and followed.

Given the significance of penalties that might be imposed means that employers must be rigorous in their attention to their duties under the OHS Act in providing a safe workplace.

For further advice or assistance Nevetts Lawyers Workplace and Employment Group are able to provide advice and assistance to you in addressing appropriate steps to be taken in an organisation to ensure compliance with the OHS Act.

Author: James Remington