Workplace manslaughter laws take effect in Victoria
By Geeta Shyam
Victoria’s new workplace manslaughter offences became effective on 1 July 2020, bringing in significantly higher fines and jail terms for occupational health and safety contraventions that result in death.
Subscribers to the Workplace Health and Safety practice area on CCH Pinpoint® can access more detailed commentary on Victoria’s workplace manslaughter laws.
The workplace manslaughter offences appear under Pt 5A of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (the OHS Act). In particular, s 39G sets out the offence.
The offences apply to anyone who has a duty under Pt 3 of the OHS Act, except volunteers and employees who are not officers.
The relevant duty holder commits the offence if conduct constituting a breach of the applicable duty is negligent and causes the death of a person.
The penalties for workplace manslaughter are significantly greater than the penalties for other offences under the OHS Act. Body corporates that commit workplace manslaughter face a fine of up to $16.5m, while individuals face imprisonment sentences of up to 25 years.
It is because of the level of penalties attached to these offences that their introduction is controversial.
Victoria has become the fourth jurisdiction in Australia to introduce these offences, which are generally labelled industrial manslaughter offences. Industrial manslaughter is also a part of Western Australia Work Health and Safety Bill that is currently being considered by the state parliament.
Victorian Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy said the new offences send a clear message to employers that putting lives at risk will not be tolerated.
At the same time, Ms Hennessy announced that the criteria for workplace death was being expanded in Victoria from 1 July 2020:
“From today, fatalities that occur on the road while working, suicides attributable to a workplace health and safety failure, deaths from industrial diseases such as silicosis, and workplace deaths resulting from a criminal act, will all be recognised in the WorkSafe toll.”
“The change means more Victorians will be entitled to WorkSafe family support services following the death of a loved one at work and broader reporting will bring increased focus to workplace health and safety issues.”