In response to the Eagle Farm and Dreamworld fatalities last year, industrial manslaughter laws were recently introduced in Queensland so that organisations and company directors will be criminally responsible for deaths in the workplace.
Following two devastating events in Queensland, both which occurred in the month of October 2016, industrial manslaughter was set to become a criminal offence under the state’s law. The first incident was at a construction site at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm Racecourse, in which two workers were crushed to death by a concrete panel being lowered by crane. Nineteen days later, there were the deaths of four visitors at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast when the Thunder River Rapid Ride had malfunctioned. In both instances, it was said that the deaths could have been avoided had better work health and safety practices been in place.
One year after the incidents – in October 2017, the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (“Amendment Act”) passed through the Queensland Government. This legislation introduced the new offence of industrial manslaughter in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 with mirror amendments in the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011. Queensland is now the second Australian jurisdiction with specific industrial manslaughter laws, following the Australian Capital Territory.
The Amendment Act defines that a person conducting a business or undertaking (“PCBU”), or a senior officer of a PCBU, will have committed the offence of industrial manslaughter if:
a) a worker:
– dies in the course of carrying out work for the business or undertaking; or
– is injured in the course of carrying out work for the business or undertaking and later dies; and
b) the person’s conduct causes the death of the worker; and
c) the person is negligent about causing the death of the worker by the conduct.
The laws were passed to send a clear message to corporations that negligence will not be acceptable and companies will be held to account. No longer will companies be able to evade their duties by hiding behind elaborate corporate structures. The laws had been amended to clarify that the defence of accident under the Queensland Criminal Code, does not apply to the offence of industrial manslaughter. This means that those liable will not be able to raise the defence that a workplace accident was not intended or was not reasonably foreseeable.
The Dreamworld and Eagle Farm fatalities highlighted the need to ensure that the work health and safety framework operates as an effective deterrent to non-compliance. The objective is to prevent the loss of lives of workers by strengthening existing penalties and offences. If a PCBU is found guilty of industrial manslaughter, the body corporate may be liable for a fine of up to $10 million. At the same time, an individual, i.e. the senior officer of a PCBU, may be liable for a term of up to 20 years imprisonment.
Although industrial manslaughter only applies in situations where there is the death of a worker, it is hoped that the laws will also prevent further tragedies in the place of work. For instance, the victim may be a visitor instead of a worker – as with the case of Dreamworld. Any unsafe conduct or practices within the workplace could very well lead to a visitor’s loss of life.
To find out how these new laws will impact on you and your business, speak to a solicitor today.
Shanya Sahay is a law clerk at Stephens & Tozer Solicitors, undertaking work across an extensive range of legal practice areas. Should you have any questions or concerns in relation to work health and safety, please contact our team at Stephens & Tozer.
4 December 2017