Queensland makes industrial manslaughter a crime

Friday, 27 October, 2017

New industrial manslaughter laws have been passed in Queensland, which will mean that a company or individual found guilty of industrial manslaughter may now be liable for a fine of up to $10 million, while an individual senior officer may be liable to a term of up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 was passed on 12 October. The Bill was the Palaszczuk government’s response to the independent review ‘Best Practice Review of Work Health and Safety in Queensland’ conducted by Tim Lyons (former Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions). The review was in response to the death of four visitors to the Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast and the death of two workers at the Eagle Farm racecourse earlier in 2016.

The Bill creates two new criminal offences of industrial manslaughter, an ‘employer’ and a ‘senior officer’ offence. When a worker dies (or is injured and later dies) in the course of carrying out work, the offence applies when the person conducting a business or undertaking, or senior officer’s conduct (either by act, omission or negligence of conduct), causes the death of the worker.

The new offence is included in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (WHS Act), as well as the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Qld) and Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 (Qld).

The maximum penalties are significantly higher than those previously available for reckless breaches of health and safety legislation, which were a maximum fine of up to $3 million for a company, and imprisonment of up to five years for an individual.

The new offences of industrial manslaughter do not alter an employer’s primary duties under the WHS Act, nor those of its ‘officers’ to exercise due diligence. All workers still have duties, for example, to take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.

What has changed, however, is the addition of new offences and penalties in situations of criminal negligence causing death, which extend to the broader category of ‘senior officers’. A ‘senior officer’ is now also defined more broadly as any person who is concerned with, or takes part in, the corporation’s management, regardless of whether the person is a director or the person’s position is given the name of executive officer.

Currently, the only other Australian jurisdiction with a similar industrial manslaughter offence is the ACT, while industrial manslaughter laws have been proposed in a number of other states, including New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, but have not been passed.

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