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The debate begins to pass Victorian Workplace Manslaughter Laws

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By Graham Dent and Nina Hoang

This is just a short briefing note. We will continue to monitor and report on the issues arising and the progress of the proposed Workplace Manslaughter laws.

On 29 October 2019, The Hon Jill Hennessy, the Victorian Minister for Workplace Safety, introduced the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019 to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (VIC) ‘(the Act)’ by creating offences for workplace manslaughter.

Under these new amendments, companies, self-employed persons, and ‘officers’ of companies will all be held liable for deaths which arose due to negligent conduct which breached the duties owed to another person under the Act. ‘Negligent’ will be defined as ‘a great falling short of care’ that is expected of a reasonable person when engaged in conduct that involves high risk of death or serious injury or illness. The industrial manslaughter offences will also extend criminal liability to cases where workplace negligent conduct leads to the death of a member of the public. There will be significant debate around the meaning of, and inter-relationship with this new offence, of the existing offence of reckless endangerment.

Notably, as part of the amendments, prosecutions under the workplace manslaughter offences will be exempted from the statutory limitation period of two years and will be able to be brought by the Victorian WorkCover Authority at any time. The maximum fines have been increased to $16.5 million and individuals can face up to 20 years in jail.

Additionally, the Bill will establish the Workplace Incidents Consultative Committee, which is responsible for making recommendations to the Minister for occupational health and safety law reform.

Similar, but not identical, industrial manslaughter laws already exist in Queensland and the ACT, with Western Australia and Northern Territory soon to follow suit. New South Wales has said it will not be introducing such legislation.

In 2018, a prosecution was brought against RAR Cranes Pty Ltd (see here) for manslaughter under the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) and this matter currently remains on foot. Additionally there is an active prosecution against Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (see here) and its company directors for industrial manslaughter under the provisions introduced following an inquiry into the fatalities in incidents at the Dreamworld Theme Park and a construction site at Eagle Farm. This will be the first time a company has been prosecuted for industrial manslaughter under the Queensland legislation and it remains to be seen whether these laws will serve as an effective deterrent.

See the Victorian proposals here:

Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019

Explanatory Memorandum