Industrial Manslaughter offence introduced to Queensland

17 October 2017
Jonathon Hadley, Partner, Brisbane

On 12 October 2017 the Queensland Government passed the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 which was introduced into parliament on 22 August 2017. The Bill introduces the new criminal penalty of ‘industrial manslaughter’ into the State of Queensland under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). This new amendment to workplace health and safety laws will apply to all businesses in Queensland.

If it is found that a worker’s death occurred as a result of the negligent conduct of person(s) conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), the proposed penalty will hold those person(s) criminally responsible as they have an overarching duty of care to their workers. The maximum penalty under the new offence is up to 20 years’ imprisonment for individuals and up to a maximum fine of $10 milion for corporations. Under the new legislation, senior officers of organisations, which include executive officers, or those individuals who perform an executive position for a PCBU, may also be held individually responsible for a worker’s death if it is found the worker died due to the senior officer’s negligent conduct. Notably, a negligent senior officer will also face up to a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment for this offence.

The new ‘industrial manslaughter’ provisions were proposed in response to two fatal workplace health and safety incidents that occurred last year in South Eastern Queensland. These respectively were at Eagle Farm Racecourse which resulted in the death of two workers, and at Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast which resulted in the death of 4 patrons. The introduction of an ‘industrial manslaughter’ penalty into Queensland’s WHS legislation was a recommendation in the 3 July 2017 final report from the independent ‘Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety in Queensland’ undertaken subsequent to the two fatal incidents.

Recently, the number of deaths from workplace incidents in Queensland may have risen to seven within a 12 month period. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) are currently still investigating the recent death of a 15 year old patron from injuries received at the Pine Rivers PCYC gym, however if it is found this was as a result of a workplace incident, this may add more poignancy to the government’s introduction of the ‘industrial manslaughter’ penalty. Interestingly, the legislation as it is drafted does not act retrospectively, so this law is not expected to be used against any PCBUs involved in fatal workplace incidents that have already occurred.

The Bill also amends the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Qld), and the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 (Qld) to incorporate the ‘industrial manslaughter’ offence.

Other matters the Bill alters include:

  • the establishment of a new and independent WHS Prosecutor to take over the current functions of WHSQ for conducting and defending WHS proceedings;
  • allowing inspectors to make determinations on WHS issues if they cannot come to a resolution with the employer at the time of inspection;
  • re-establishing the Codes of Practice previously applicable under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 (Qld) inclusive of a mandated review of these Codes every 5 years;
  • introducing the option ability for PCBUs to appoint a Workplace Health and Safety Officer (WHSO); and
  • a mandatory requirement on PCBUs to appoint and appropriately train Health and Safety Representatives (HSR). PCBU’s will be required to provide a list of HSR’s and copies of their provisional improvement notices to WHSQ.

No date has been set down as to when the new provisions will come into force, however the remaining amendments will commence on 1 July 2018. Our Employment and Safety team can assist you to understand what implications these amendments have on your organisation and what changes you may need to make in order to comply with the new laws.

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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