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First Individual Industrial Manslaughter charge

After the success of their first industrial manslaughter prosecution in June 2020, WorkSafe QLD is trying to have another crack at industrial manslaughter.

Industrial Manslaughter has only been passed in ACT, QLD, NT and VIC but it looks more than likely it will shortly be introduced in SA and WA. Industrial Manslaughter is the highest criminal offence under safety legislation and is reserved for only the most serious offences.

A corporation or an officer will be charged with industrial manslaughter if:

  1. A worker has died;
  2. The death is connected to their employment; and
  3. The death occurred directly due to the corporation or officer’s negligent conduct.

There are significant penalties associated with industrial manslaughter, see our helpful table which breaks it down for each State and Territory here.

Due to the seriousness of the offence, the only confirmed prosecutions of industrial manslaughter so far are the cases of R v Watts and R v Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd & Ors (see our article) thus far. It is likely that we will see this increase as the regulatory authorities try to make examples out of rogue employers.

While there have been examples of corporations being charged, for the first time ever WorkSafe QLD have charged the Director of Owen’s Electric Motor Rewinds, Jeffrey Owen with the offence of industrial manslaughter. In July 2019, a worker at the Owen’s Electric Motor Rewinds site was fatally crushed by a portable generator that was being unloaded by a forklift. The forklift directly flipped as a result of Mr Owen overloading the forklift.  The case is due to be heard on 1 October 2020, and Mr Owen faces up to 20 years in prison. This case serves as a lesson to all employers, to be vigilant and careful otherwise you can be directly held responsible for any accidents that occur.

Key Lessons

  • Employers must do their due diligence and carefully scrutinise all their safety protocols. Unlike in this case, even if your actions did not directly cause their actions. If you were aware of the risk and did nothing to prevent the risk from eventuating, you will still be charged if it results in a workplace fatality
  • Officers will be held personally liable if their actions contributed to the actions
  • Remember the only defence is reasonable practicability – make sure you have done everything possible you can to avert risks. If it is a freak accident that could not have been prevented you will not be prosecuted.

Written by Nina Hoang

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Heightened levels of stress around the pandemic is also a relevant factor. An April 2020 study reported 88% of the participants (US employees) faced moderate to extreme stress during the pandemic and nearly 70% faced the most stressful time of their professional career.

Paul Evans

Managing Director, Toro Digital

Psychological hazards of e-working during the pandemic is a relevant factor. The Australian Psychological Society identified these hazards as conflicts between work and family, workload and over-working, future uncertainty and isolation/loneliness.

Heightened levels of stress around the pandemic is also a relevant factor. An April 2020 study reported 88% of the participants (US employees) faced moderate to extreme stress during the pandemic and nearly 70% faced the most stressful time of their professional career. Participants noted their productivity consequently declined by at least one hour a day for 62% and at least two hours for 32%.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a marked rise in mental health related prescriptions since March 2020.

These risks can be mitigated by undertaking appropriate risk analysis for each employee, ensuring controls are instituted that mitigate those risks, ensuring regular communication between management and employees around individual circumstances, setting clear expectations including around joint goals and objectives, scheduling regular informal team gatherings, and ensuring access to support and resources.

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