Workplace-related accidents - particularly those that result in death - can have a devastating impact on all involved. They are generally dealt with under the laws of Industrial Manslaughter in Australia - which allow a corporation to be held liable for the death of a person caused by that corporation's employees within the scope of their work.  The District Court of Queensland recently passed down the first Conviction and Sentence for Industrial Manslaughter in Australia. Here, New South Wales’ Employment Lawyer Lee Hooks explains what it might mean for employers and employees.

Recent legal developments in Industrial Manslaughter in Australia

On 25 March 2022, the District Court of Queensland handed down the first sentence for contravention of the Industrial Manslaughter provisions contained within the State’s Work Health and Safety Legislation.  It was based on the facts of the case as follows. On 3 July 2019 Mr Owen, with the assistance of a worker, attempted to unload a generator from a flatbed truck.  While unloading, the generator fell and landed on the worker who regrettably died from the injuries he sustained.  Following the event, authorities charged Mr Owen with an offence under s43C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (QLD).  His Honour remarked in his Sentence, that there were “no safety plans in place” and that Mr Owen’s conduct substantially contributed to his worker’s death.

Why did the judge find the employer guilty of industrial manslaughter?

There were several reasons for this finding, these included:  Firstly,  the forklift was inadequate for its use in unloading the generator. Secondly, Mr Owen failed to check the weight of the generator with the lifting capacity of the forklift. Thirdly, Mr Owen did not have a license to operate the forklift.  Finally, there were no safety plans in place.  Generally, the maximum prison sentence for a person found guilty of industrial manslaughter in Queensland and Western Australia is currently twenty (20) years.  In this case, his Honour found that a sentence of five years imprisonment, to be suspended after serving 18 months, was appropriate.

What does the ruling mean for you as an employer (or employee)? 

The current Work Health and Safety legislative framework provides for several offences to be brought against both businesses and individuals.  Businesses and their officers must, among other things, ensure they have adequate and proper WHS systems and procedures in place. And create a workplace culture that stresses compliance with such systems. They should also continuously revisit their safety procedures and develop a consistent safety training regime for its workers.  Businesses and officers should also be aware of the duties the Work Health and Safety legislation imposes upon them. And seek advice on how to mitigate risks and liability.  They should also provide information to all key workers. These include officers, about the Industrial Manslaughter provisions and penalties that apply in each Australian jurisdiction.   With a Bill currently in Parliament to incorporate similar provisions into the NSW Work Health and Safety legislation, convictions for Industrial Manslaughter could soon be a real issue for New South Wales businesses and their officers..

New South Lawyers’ communications are intended to provide commentary and general information and not relied upon as legal advice. Seek formal legal advice in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication.

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