The Queensland government announced today major changes to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Amongst other things, the Queensland government is proposing to:
- Introduce a new offence of ‘industrial manslaughter’.
- Establishing an independent statutory office for work health and safety prosecutions.
- Making it a duty under the Act to comply with government Codes of Practice.
- Bringing back Work Health and Safety Officers (WHSO) to Queensland.
The changes are contained in the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017
, which was read for the first time in Parliament on 22 August 2017.
Introducing the Bill, the Honourable Grace Grace, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, said that introducing the new offence of industrial manslaughter, “will send a clear message about societal expectations around safety in the workplace.” She said, “the message is clear: workplace health and safety standards should be a No. 1 priority for senior officers whose decisions can have catastrophic impacts on the safety of workers”.
In an official media statement, the Minister stated, “Under our proposed laws, the maximum penalty for industrial manslaughter will be 20 years imprisonment for an individual, with a maximum fine of $10 million for a corporate offender” and “Our harsher penalties will serve as a deterrent to employers who are tempted to cut corners when it comes to safety in the workplace”.
Commenting on the changes, Alan Girle, Director of Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors said the changes demonstrated a desire by the government to be seen to be tough on safety. The changes are yet to be debated and Mr Girle said that a critical issue for debate may be whether the proposed law would advance the current position under the Criminal Code Act 1899
. Mr Girle said there have been (and still are) numerous cases before the Courts for industrial incidents that resulted in mainstream criminal charges.
The Government is suggesting that the current manslaughter charge under the Criminal Code is insufficient when looking at the work health and safety responsibilities of the management team of a large corporation. He posed the question: “Do we really want executives of large corporations charged with industrial manslaughter?“
However, Mr Girle also said that an important issue arising out of the proposals is the reintroduction of WHSOs to Queensland. The reintroduction of WHSOs is being sold by the Government as something for industry, but it is a ‘two-edged sword’. What business needs to appreciate is that if these proposals become law, then it is great if the business has an existing WHSO. However, if the business does not have a WHSO, then the failure to have a WHSO on staff will be admissible as evidence that the business has not complied with its obligations under the Act.
The bill has now been referred to the Queensland Finance and Administration Committee for review before being made into law.