On 12 October 2017, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Grace Grace, announced the introduction of “Tough new industrial manslaughter laws” in Queensland. With maximum penalties of 20 years imprisonment for an individual, and a maximum fine of $10 million for a corporate offender, the new Industrial Manslaughter laws are significant.
The new Industrial Manslaughter laws were prompted by the 2016, workplace fatalities at Dreamworld, where four people lost their lives on the Thunder River Rapids Ride; and at Eagle Farm, where two workers were crushed when a precast concrete slab toppled over. These incidents prompted the Government to engage Tim Lyons to review the Workplace Health and Safety Laws. His report, “Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland” was completed on 3 July 2017.
The Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, creates two new offences: a senior officer offence and a corporate offence, where conduct negligently causes the death of a worker. The existing standard for criminal negligence is proposed to be applied, with a maximum penalty for an individual of 20 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of 100,000 penalty units, or $10 million for a body corporate.
The Bill introduces a new part 2A titled “Industrial Manslaughter” into the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The legislation defines in section 34A two classes of people:
executive officer, of a corporation, means a person who is concerned with, or takes part in, the corporation’s management, whether or not the person is a director or the person’s position is given the name of executive officer.
senior officer, of a person conducting a business or undertaking, means—
(a)if the person is a corporation—an executive officer of the corporation; or
(b)otherwise—the holder of an executive position (however described) in relation to the person who makes, or takes part in making, decisions affecting all, or a substantial part, of the person’s functions.
(1) A person conducting a business or undertaking commits an offence if—
(a) a worker—
(i) dies in the course of carrying out work for the business or undertaking; or
(ii) 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.
(a) for an individual—20 years imprisonment; or
(b) for a body corporate—100,000 penalty units.
A persons conduct causes death if the conduct substantially contributes to the death. Further the Act provides that conduct includes not only a positive act but an omission to do an act. It is imperative that employers are aware of their obligations to ensure that workplace undertakings are not conducted negligently.
While the existing standard of proof in Queensland for criminal negligence will be applied industrial manslaughter offences, the new charge is for behaviour and attitudes that exceed that of recklessness under category 1 offences.
The guidelines for industrial manslaughter prosecutions are identical to those for manslaughter under the Criminal Code.
It is a defence to the charge to demonstrate that the accused is a volunteer.
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Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.