New Industrial Manslaughter Bill

Australia’s highest work safety fine and the offence of workplace manslaughter were introduced to the Victorian Parliament on 29 October 2019 as part of the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2019. The Bill amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

The Bill introduces the offence of workplace manslaughter under section 39G. Under section 39G, a person must not engage in negligent conduct that breaches an applicable duty owed to another person and causes the death of that person.

The new laws will attract the highest penalty in the OHS Act, introducing maximum fines of approx. $16.5m for employers and jail terms of up to 20 years and fines of up to $1.65m for  officers whose actions or omissions:

• cause the death of a worker or member of the public
• involve a breach of an OHS duty
• were negligent

The negligence standard is the criminal negligence standard and applies where there is a great falling short of the care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the circumstances in which the conduct was engaged in, and involves a high risk of death or serious injury or serious illness.

Under the new laws, senior officers of a company, sole traders and partnerships could be separately liable (in addition to the employer) where they are negligent by failing to take reasonable steps on workplace safety to prevent fatalities, including managing mental injury that leads to suicide.

The new laws will commence on a day to be proclaimed or 1 July 2020 at the latest, negligent conduct before the legislation commences may still be relevant for the purposes of prosecution if an organisation’s omission to amend unsafe work policies causes a workplace fatality post-commencement.