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First industrial manslaughter conviction

June 17, 2020

In a first for Australia, last week Queensland company Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) was convicted of industrial manslaughter and fined $3 million.

Members may be aware that a number of states have now introduced or are about to introduce industrial manslaughter laws.

Industrial manslaughter laws allow the regulator to take action when a business or person negligently causes the death of a worker. If the business or person is found to have committed the offence the Court can apply substantial fines and prison terms.

In this case, BAR’s two directors were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment however this was wholly suspended for 20 months.

The judgement found that company had no safety systems in place and steps to prevent the incident were considered to have been only a minor inconvenience and cost little.

The case involved a worker who was struck by a forklift in BARs wrecking yard. The worker ultimately died from his injuries. BAR had in place a system of verbal safety instructions to workers and unbeknown to the directors, the operator of the forklift was unlicensed and unskilled.

What states have industrial manslaughter laws?

An offence of industrial manslaughter was first introduced in the ACT in 2004. No other states had these laws until 2017 when Queensland adopted new work, health and safety laws.

Similar laws now exist in the Northern Territory (February 2020) and are due to commence in Victoria on 1 July 2020. A Bill currently before the Western Australian Parliament also seeks to introduce the offence.

While NSW, South Australia and Tasmania haven’t introduced specific industrial manslaughter laws, employers can be prosecuted for workplace fatalities under existing work, health and safety laws.

What should you do in your business?

This decision acts as an important reminder of the significance of having safety systems in place and the responsibilities that come with running a business. As the director of a company or someone in a senior position you are responsible for the actions of your staff and any person entering sites or buildings under your control.

It is essential that you recognise you may be held personally liable should someone be injured or a death occur. Safety is always a priority – for directors, employees, contractors and visitors. If you hold a director position, or you play a role in managing your business, you need to ensure that you have taken the necessary steps to make work health and safety a top priority for everyone every day.

HIA members can call a HIA Workplace Adviser for further information on the legal requirements or contact HIA Safety Services to find out more about ensuring your company has the right safety systems and practices in place. Our contact number is 1300 650 620.