A CASE in Tasmania has highlighted the need for so-called industrial manslaughter offences to be introduced in the state, which would include jail sentences for employers found to have contributed to the death of an employee, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
Tougher penalties for breaches of workplace safety rules, including jail terms for individuals, have been passed in several jurisdictions around Australia in the past two years.
The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute is now inquiring into whether Tasmania needs to introduce its own specific manslaughter offence for the workplace.
The Tasmanian president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Sandra Taglieri, said the $25,000 fine recently imposed on the Australian Food Group in the Launceston Magistrates Court following the death of 16-year-old Matthew Hudson while driving a forklift at work “is a startling illustration of the failings of our workplace safety laws”.
She said the modest fine showed there is “no proper incentive for employers to keep their workplaces safe”.
Although the fine in this case was less than 20 per cent of the maximum fine available under present Tasmanian law, Taglieri said there needed to be higher penalties available, including jail terms.
“What difference is there between a person negligently driving and causing a death in a motor vehicle accident, and a person’s negligence in the workplace causing the death of a worker?”
The ACT was the first to pass industrial manslaughter laws in Australia. These were in amendments to the territory’s Crimes Act and commenced in March last year. Under the “industrial manslaughter — senior officer offence” senior officers can be prosecuted where it is proven that their negligence or recklessness led to the death or serious injury of an employee under their supervision.
New South Wales was the latest state to pass similar laws, including fines for a first offence by a corporation of $1.65 million and maximum fines of $165,000 and/or a five year jail term for individuals held liable.
Mark Addison, a partner at Dibbs Abbott Stillman, said some argue against specific indictable offences for the workplace. Instead, they say, existing manslaughter laws should be applied.
However, if penalties are to be increased, he said, NSW’s approach of making changes to the existing OH&S laws is the more logical.
“The main criticism from the ACT Government when they were introducing their [industrial manslaughter] amendment to the Crimes Act was that the penalties in the OH&S Act were not strong enough. My view was just increase the penalties [rather than amend the Crimes Act].”