Builders Raise Concern About Manslaughter Law

A key building industry lobby group has raised concern about new legislation which could see bosses who negligently cause death of their workers facing up to 20 year’s jail or up to $16.5 million in fines, saying that the new offence should apply to all parties in workplaces and will adversely impact small business.

The Master Builders Association of Victoria (MBAV) has raised concerns about three aspects of proposed new laws which were introduced into the Victorian Parliament on Tuesday that will create a new offense for workplace manslaughter under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

Under the proposed changes, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million and up to twenty year’s jail in the case of individuals.

The offence will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the employers (such as company directors).

The legislation will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public.

The new laws follows recommendations contained in the final report of a senate inquiry into industrial deaths released in October 2018 for the nationally consistent implementation of an industrial manslaughter offence.

The inquiry called for states and territories to use as a starting point existing Queensland laws which were introduced after fatalities which occurred at the Dreamworld Theme Park and the Eagle Farm construction site in 2016.

In a statement, Victorian Minster for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said no-one should die at work and that the government was committed to holding accountable those who negligently cause deaths.

“I cannot begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work,” Hennessy said.

“All workers deserve a safe workplace and the proposed laws send a clear message to employers that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated.”

So far this year, 19 Victorians have died at work.

But MBAV has raised concern about the proposed new law.

In a statement, MBAV chief executive officer Rebecca Casson said the law should apply to anyone who engages in criminally negligent conduct which results in death in a workplace

As well as organisations and senior officers, this should include workers themselves.

Responsibility for safety, Casson said, should be shared between employers and their workers and should be approached in a spirit of collaboration.

Toward this end, she says legal responsibility where negligence occurs should apply to all involved in a workplace – not just employers and company officers.

Casson also expresses concern that the burden of the new laws will fall disproportionately on small employers, who typically have a more hands on role in company operations.

Finally, the legislation should be accompanied by education and support both for businesses themselves to provide safe workplaces and for Worksafe officials to manage the complexities associated with manslaughter cases (currently, manslaughter investigations are conducted by highly trained Victoria Police officers).

“The Victorian Government has today introduced a new workplace manslaughter law to Parliament,” Casson said.

“If passed as drafted, this law risks failing to create safer workplaces while imposing fines of around $16 million and up to 20 years jail for employers responsible for negligently causing death.

“We accept that the Government has a mandate to introduce workplace manslaughter legislation, but these laws should be fair and equitable.”

Written by Andrew Heaton