Victoria’s New Workplace Manslaughter Laws: What Every Business Owner Needs to Know
Occupational health and safety laws have always protected both employers and employees in the workplace. The goal of these provisions is to promote diligence among business owners and duty holders to minimize the number of manslaughter cases due to negligence.

In Victoria, a new workplace manslaughter law has been introduced just recently. Although the law doesn’t speak about new duties for business owners, there is indeed a new change as to the offenses.

In general this new criminal offense targets negligent employers, duty holders, and organizations in Victoria that breach specific duties outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act). If a negligent act causes the death of an individual to whom duty of care was owed tougher penalties now apply.

If you own a business in Victoria, here is what you should know about the new workplace manslaughter law.

Why was the new law introduced?

Occupational health and safety laws are expected to be complied with by business owners not only in Victoria but across all states in Australia. In general, this law aims to penalize negligent employers, organizations, and duty holders so that they will always be pressured to keep the workplace safe at all times.

The new workplace manslaughter law was introduced to avoid more workplace death. It also gives employers a strong deterrent so they will comply with their obligations under the occupational health and safety laws.

The newly passed law sends a significant message that Victoria does not tolerate business owners who put their people’s lives at risk!

Before the new law, there were cracks in the common law that made it hard to hold corporations criminally liable. Now as July 1, 2020, those convicted of workplace manslaughter can be fined up to $16.5 million and for individuals up to 25 years in jail.

The length of imprisonment and amount fined will reflect the severity of the offense. Thus, they are imposed to prevent more deaths in the workplace because of employers’ negligence.

Do Workplace Manslaughter Laws apply in other states of Australia?

Beyond Victoria, the same changes are being discussed. A scrap metal yard in Brisbane was recently fined $3 million and its two directors sentenced to 10 months in prison after an employee died after being hit by a reversing forklift.

Another case in the news recently is the very tragic incident at Dreamworld Theme Park in 2016 also in Queensland where 4 members of the public died when a ride malfunctioned. The Corporation is facing fines of up to $4.5million under Work Health and Safety Act 2011 with further charges being evaluated under workplace law. An Industrial Manslaughter law was only passed in Queensland in May 2020.

In other areas such as Western Australia, an amendment will soon follow as the Work Health and Safety Bill was introduced recently to the State Parliament. Meanwhile, in New South Wales, proposed new industrial manslaughter laws were rejected because the state wants to focus more on risky workplace practices.

What is the definition of workplace manslaughter?

Here in Australia, the definition of “manslaughter” as written under Section 280 of the Criminal Code states it is:

“when an individual unlawfully kills a person in any circumstance that does not qualify as murder, the said act is called manslaughte”

From this definition, workplace manslaughter is considered an unlawful killing of a person within his/her workplace.

What is Industrial vs Workplace Manslaughter?

Industrial manslaughter is a crime wherein the action or inaction of the business owner results in the killing of his/her employee. This crime falls under the new section of the OHS Act stating that an individual (or body corporate) must not involve himself in negligent conduct that will violate his applicable duty to another person and which conduct results in the death of the person.

Industrial manslaughter is a broader area than the typical criminal manslaughter. The applicable duty mentioned here is the reasonable practices and obligations of the employers to give their employees a safe working environment without risking their health.

It is always the employers’ responsibility to keep their employees safe at all times. 

What Are the Penalties & Implications for Victorian Business Owners?

According to the new manslaughter law, those who will be found guilty of industrial manslaughter will have to face up to 25 years in prison for individuals and up to $16.5 million fines for corporations. The severity of the penalties will depend on the gravity of the crime committed.
According to the law, the term “conduct” is the action or inaction to perform an activity and it involves the shortage of the employer to apply standard care that could have saved the employee from dying. Once proven that employers commit such conduct, they will surely face charges.

Does the Law Apply to ?

The new law does not apply to an employee or a volunteer unless he/she is an officer of the company or organization. However, an employee can still undergo prosecution if he/she violates the duties under the OHS Act such as taking reasonable care for their own safety and health, cooperating with their employers to comply with the OHS Act, unintentionally interfering to support safety, health, and welfare in the workplace, and not engaging in conduct that will result in the danger of another employee.

What Should Business Owners be Doing to Avoid Implications?

Business owners must always be on top of strict occupational health and safety standards. In doing so they should have processes in place to be able to quickly identify possible hazards that are both risky to their employees and/or the public. Here are some further tips to help business owners stay within this new law:

Regularly assess whether current procedures of the company in terms of health and safety are enough to prevent risks
evaluate compliance levels of company procedures
review carefully and thoroughly any incidents that involve safety
create and maintain a strong safety culture within the company and amongst all staff.

How Electrical Test and Tag can help

Here at RKH Test and Tag we put the safety of our clients first. What we do is an essential component in avoiding the tragedy of injury or death in the workplace. We can help businesses avoid workplace penalties by ensuring that all workplace portable appliances are proven and tested before their actual use. This is the core of our business and it’s what we do every day and always in compliance with OHS regulations.

It’s one less thing business owners have to worry about from an OH&S perspective so they can instead focus on safety around processes and procedures and other areas.
We believe that safety is the foundation of any healthy business.

If you would like to discuss your next Tag and Test Inspection please get in touch