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On 20 May 2020, the Queensland government passed the Mineral and Energy Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020 (Qld). The amendment means that industrial manslaughter is now an offence in a number of Queensland Acts relating to the resources industry, such as mining, explosives, oil and gas. These Acts include the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) and the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld).
Why have new laws been introduced?
The new industrial manslaughter laws were introduced in Queensland in response to the record number of fatal mining incidents the state had experienced.
In an attempt to put a stop to deaths on worksites, the amended manslaughter laws will provide an added incentive to employers to ensure that they are not in breach of any mandatory, existing Workplace Health and Safety rules.
Under the new laws, organisations and their most senior directors and supervisors will now have to face serious consequences in the event one of their workers is fatally injured during the course of their work.
It is hoped that the amendments will motivate an organisation’s decision-makers to increase their safety practices as they will be held accountable if it is found that their criminal negligence caused the fatality.
What are the penalties for breaching industrial manslaughter laws?
If found guilty of industrial manslaughter, the maximum penalty for an individual is 20 years’ imprisonment. For a body corporate, a fine of $10 million applies.
Who will be penalised?
Under the amended legislation, the decision-makers of the business will bear the penalties if found guilty of industrial manslaughter, meaning senior officers and those who are directors can be penalised.
Under the Act, a ‘senior officer’ refers to someone who is an executive officer of a corporation or someone in an executive position, such as a Chief Executive Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, a Chief Operations Officer, a General Manager, a General Counsel or a director or secretary of a corporation.
What must employers do to ensure they are being compliant with the new laws?
In the first instance, employers should ensure that their workplace is compliant with the relevant Workplace Health and Safety laws.
In June 2020, the first industrial manslaughter case was tried in Queensland, meaning a precedent has now been set. In this case the directors of an auto recycling business were found guilty of industrial manslaughter after one of their employees was crushed into a truck by a forklift that was reversing.
The directors were found to be in breach of the industrial manslaughter laws because of:
- the absence of written safety policies and procedures within the workplace;
- the absence of correct Workplace Health and Safety procedures;
- their failure to immediately report the incident to Workplace Health Safety Queensland;
- their failure to take out WorkCover for their business; and
- their lack of care in confirming that their forklift operators held the required licenses.
After the incident, the directors also falsified information given to first responders and the victim’s next of kin.
Despite the existing Workplace Health and Safety laws and the introduction of industrial manslaughter legislation, it is inevitable that accidents will still sometimes occur. It is important to remember that the penalties apply to those organisations and individuals who are found to be criminally negligent in their practices and that their negligence led to the fatality of a worker.
If you need advice about the amendments to industrial manslaughter laws, our employment lawyers in Cairns can help.
Contact Cairns Employment Lawyers today.