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New Manslaughter Legislation in Victoria

As at 1 July 2020 a criminal offence of workplace manslaughter came into effect in Victoria.

The new legislation attracts the highest financial penalty in Australia, with a maximum fine of $16.5 million for employers and prison terms for company officers of up to 20 years, similar to other jurisdictions (Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory [ACT]).

In addition, the duty in Victoria is owed not just to workers of a company but to others as well, including visitors, bystanders or customers.

This change does not create additional duties for employers, they introduce tougher penalties on already existing duties required by employers under the OHS Act. 

Just as these laws are introduced in Victoria, Queensland has just had its first prosecution of an offence of its industrial manslaughter legislation in the Brisbane Courts as a result of a workplace fatality.

In May 2019, a worker was struck by a reversing forklift being operated by another worker. The struck worker died the following week from the injuries he sustained. The incident was captured on CCTV and viewed by the sentencing Judge.

The period of offending was over nearly 18 months, during which time no safety systems were in place at the workplace.

As the company pleaded guilty to the offence, the allegations were not defended at trial nor were the circumstances surrounding the offence examined by a judge and jury.

By their guilty pleas, the directors accepted that they knew of the risk to the safety of their workers, but consciously disregarded that risk.

Each of the two directors was convicted and sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, wholly suspended for 20 months, meaning they were not sentenced to serve actual custody and the company was convicted and fined $3 million.

For those companies already complying with their OHS duties and doing the right thing, there you will not need to do anything different from 1 July. If you are not complying, the consequences for not thinking about workplace risk will be much more severe.