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Following on from our 17 May 2017 alert regarding the Queensland Government’s audit of work health and safety (WH&S) laws and procedures, State parliament has since passed the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 whereby senior executives of corporations could be charged with industrial manslaughter if someone dies at their workplace.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the laws were in response to the multiple deaths of workers over the past few years including the deaths of two workers at the Eagle Farm Racecourse last year, and the deaths of four visitors to the Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast.
Speaking to Parliament, Minister Grace stated that the new offence should send a clear message to corporations that negligence was not acceptable:
"We owe it to the victims of these tragedies and their loved ones to ensure Queensland has strong industrial manslaughter laws to protect people on the job backed by strong penalties for employers proven to be negligent….No one should be above the law and that's what this bill seeks to achieve…it's about saving lives and holding negligent employers to account.”
She continued by stating that "It's simply not good enough that a company and its senior officers can negligently cause the death of a worker and evade justice due to the veil of corporate anonymity."
Under the new laws, the maximum penalty for industrial manslaughter will be 20 years imprisonment for an individual, with a maximum fine of $10 million for a corporate offender.
A key amendment to the new Queensland legislation included the clarification that section 23 of the Queensland Criminal Code would not apply to an industrial manslaughter offence, meaning that a person conducting a business or undertaking can be held liable for manslaughter despite having no intent to commit an offence.
Another key point that has been widely criticised is the fact that the new laws will not cover the mining sector - at least not at this point in time.
Minister Grace said in her speech to Parliament on 12 October 2017, immediately before the Bill's passage, that stakeholders and crossbenchers have made it "very clear" to her that consultation is required with committees in the mining industry before manslaughter laws could be introduced into that sector.
CFMEU mining and energy division Queensland district president Stephen Smyth has expressed his disappointment that the new laws would not cover mining, stating that the union had campaigned for them to be extended to the sector for a long time, stating:
"It's time for CFMEU to up the ante because no one needs employers to be liable under strong industrial manslaughter legislation more than workers in the mining industry."
The Queensland Government has confirmed that it will push for the new industrial manslaughter laws to go national at next year's review of the model OHS laws.
If you have concerns regarding your compliance with your WH&S obligations or if you would like guidance or advice on how to best manage your responsibilities, do not hesitate to contact our Workplace Team who are here ready to assist.