As of 1 July 2020, new laws came into effect in Victoria under the under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), making workplace manslaughter a criminal offence.
Under the laws, negligent conduct of an employer or other ‘duty holder’ or officer of an organisation, which breaches certain duties under the OHS Act and causes the death of another person, will be deemed manslaughter. It also applies when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public.
Under the new laws, employers who are negligent face up to $16.5 million fines and individuals may face up to 25 years in jail.
This law aims to hold duty holders more accountable to comply with their occupational health and safety obligations and, ultimately, prevent workplace death. The introduction of these laws sends a strong message that negligence that puts people’s lives at risk in the workplace is not tolerated.
Enforcement by WorkSafe
The new law will be enforced by WorkSafe Victoria’s Fatalities Investigation Team. This specialised unit is dedicated entirely to investigating death in the workplace and, so far, includes 11 members who all have extensive experience working with WorkSafe or with the Victoria Police.
Additionally, a Workplace Incidents Consultative Committee will be established with the purpose of developing further reforms that will provide people affected by workplace deaths and serious incidents with the support they need.
Broadened Definition of Workplace Death
The introduction of this new law has also led to changes in the definition of what constitutes workplace death. The criteria have been broadened to include:
- People killed while working on the road
- Suicides that are attributed to workplace health and safety failures
- Death from industrial diseases like silicosis
- Workplace deaths that are the result of criminal acts
Within this broadened definition, there have already been 41 workplace deaths in Victoria in 2020.
More Support for Families
With these changes, more Victorians will be eligible for WorkSafe family support services due to the death of a family member at work. It is also hoped that these changes will result in increased reporting and focus on issues of workplace health and safety.
“It is simply unacceptable for any Victorian to go to work one day and never return home. The threat of jail for individuals, or a hefty fine for organisations, should stop those who think it’s ok to put other priorities above the health and safety of their workers in their tracks,” Colin Radford said, who is WorkSafe Victoria Chief Executive.
“This will bring increased attention to workplace health and safety issues so WorkSafe can better identify emerging health and safety issues in Victoria. It will also mean more Victorians will be entitled to much needed support following the death of a loved one in a workplace incident,” Radford added.
Help for Small Businesses
A wide-ranging education plan has been rolled out by the Victorian Government in order to help small and medium sized businesses prepare for the changes. However, the laws do not change or create additional duties for employers; they simply introduce tougher penalties on negligence. As such, the education plan focuses on how employers and other duty-holders can mitigate the risks associated with conducting their business.