Thinking | 15 September 2019

Industrial Manslaughter in WA

On Tuesday 27 August 2019, Western Australian Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston announced plans to introduce two industrial manslaughter offences to Parliament before the end of the year.

The more serious “class one” offence will carry a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for individuals who contribute to the deaths of employees by breaking workplace safety rules. The “class two” offence which relates to negligent behaviour will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for an individual. Corporate offenders can be fined up to $10 million for either offence.

WA Premier, Mark McGowan stated that “[t]he death of one worker is one too many, it’s time we introduce industrial manslaughter laws to make sure Western Australians are protected at work”.

The proposed industrial manslaughter laws are based on the recommendations of a 2018 independent review by Safe Work Australia into the national model WHS laws conducted by Ms Marie Boland. The “class one” offence is similar to the industrial manslaughter laws in the ACT (introduced in 2004) and Queensland (introduced in 2017) which also carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for an individual.  In the ACT the maximum penalties are $320,000 for an individual and $1.62 million for a body corporate while in Queensland the maximum penalty is $10 million for a body corporate. There have not yet been any prosecutions under these provisions however in 2018 a prosecution was commenced in the ACT and remains on foot. Similar laws are also expected to be introduced in Victoria and Northern Territory soon whereas in New South Wales nothing is currently proposed.

There has already been a criticism of the proposed industrial manslaughter offences, with WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Rodwell saying the manslaughter laws wouldn't prevent workplace deaths but would foster "a culture of blame" and damage industry instead.  Similarly, Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Paul Everingham has noted that the regulators already have significant powers under existing legislation.

Meanwhile, CFMMEU State secretary Mick Buchan commended the proposal stating recent penalties "are only a fraction of the money that companies can gouge by cutting corners [on] safety… So penalties must directly impact the life of [employers'] decision-makers. When an employer or site manager or company director know that they can go to prison for exposing workers to danger then the game immediately changes.”


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