A new report into Australia’s model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws has recommended the introduction of industrial manslaughter as an offence in workplace health and safety legislation.
In 2018 Marie Boland was appointed as an independent reviewer of Australia’s model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for the consideration of safety ministers.
In developing her 196-page report, Ms Boland consulted with numerous businesses, workers, unions, employer associations, industry associations, and health and safety representatives and regulators which resulted in 34 recommendations that could enhance the current WHS framework.
Ms Boland believes that the model WHS laws are, for the most part, operating ‘as intended’ but has recommended some changes to provide clarity and to drive greater consistency in the application and enforcement of the laws across jurisdictions.
Among those recommendations includes a new industrial manslaughter offence.
Ms Boland believes that the law is required to address the current limitations of the criminal system when dealing with breaches of WHS duties.
“More broadly, the ACT and Queensland have already introduced industrial manslaughter provisions, with other jurisdictions considering it, and so this new offence also aims to enhance and maintain harmonisation of the WHS laws,” she states in the report.
Under the current industrial manslaughter system in most states, many companies which are found to be responsible for the death of a worker pay only small fines, which can often be claimed against insurance. Some believe this provides no deterrent for unsafe work practices which result in the death of hundreds of workers every year.
CEO of Master Builders Australia Denita Wawn said the report contains a series of recommendations which will need to be carefully considered by Government in consultation with industry before adoption.
“Many of the recommendations are sensible however others will simply make it harder for workers and business to ensure work is safe,” she stated.
Ms Wawn said the proposed introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence, along with other recommended changes to union right of entry, penalty levels, and regulations dealing with psychological health ‘have missed the point’ and ‘will not improve safety outcomes’.
“A decision of the High Court just last year, along with multiple Federal Court judgements, is evidence that safety laws are often exploited by unions for unrelated purposes. Watering down existing rules only risks undermining the importance of safety on building and construction sites,” she said.
“[The] Government must ensure it only adopts recommendations that consolidates and cements the existing approach, and rejects those that which undermines the system we know works well,” Ms Wawn concluded.
The ministers’ response to the recommendations are expected to be released later in the year.
The final Review of the model Work Health and Safety laws report can be found here.