Industrial manslaughter law update; vital information for employers

10 November 2017

QLD controversial Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 passed parliament last month, but not without the incorporation of explicit amendments.

The Bill adds industrial manslaughter provisions which carry a maximum $10 million fines and 20 year jail terms to the State Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Electrical Safety Act 2002 and Safety in Recreational Waters Activities Act 2011.

The amendments; as moved by Employment and IR Minister Grace Grace, plainly exclude a lack of intent as a defence to industrial manslaughter as an offence, adding a subsection where s23 (“intention-motive”) of QLD’s Criminal Code “does not apply to an offence under” the industrial manslaughter provision.

However, not all are happy with the Bill’s success – voicing concerns that manslaughter provisions are both “faulty at law” and a move away from national Work Health and Safety harmonisation.

Liberal National Party MP Steven Minnikin, told Parliament that “offences addressing work-related fatalities already exist under the WHS Act and Criminal Code and the new provisions don’t account for acts independent of the will of the defendant employer and do not afford other defences which would otherwise be available in the Criminal Code for other homicide-based offences

Minister Grace however argues that “increasingly elaborate corporate structures make it difficult to prosecute some employers for manslaughter under the Criminal Code”.

As a result, the new laws are apparently vital so to hold all employers accountable for negligence contributing to a worker’s death, and according to Minister Grace the amendments are necessary so to reflect the fact that “a failure to discharge significant WHS duties should not be negated by reliant on the defence of accident”.

Other amendments incorporated into the Bill include a clarification of the meaning of “worker”, and for a person conducting a business or undertaking to provide a copy of any and all provisional improvement notices that a health and safety representative had issued, to the relevant regulator.

The Bill itself also mandates safety measures in the Codes of Practice, prohibits duty holders from entering enforceable undertakings for alleged offences involving a fatality and creates new independent statutory office to conduct WHS court proceedings.