With workplace injuries and deaths a cause for concern amongst employees and employers alike, the recent amendments to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) are hardly surprising.

The most significant of these changes, the introduction of the offence of industrial manslaughter, came into effect on 23 October 2017.  Essentially, the new industrial manslaughter provisions impose criminal liability on companies, business-operators and their senior staff in respect of any workplace fatalities.

Under the new provisions, a person conducting a business or undertaking (“PCBU”)* commits an offence where:

  • a worker dies in the course of carrying out the work;**
  • the death is due to the PCBU’s conduct; and
  • the PCBU is negligent in causing the death.

Section 34D of the Act also extends liability to a “senior officer” of the PCBU, which includes any person taking part in a corporation’s management.

In addition to the civil penalties available for breaches of the Act, the industrial manslaughter provisions impose criminal liability, and as such are prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”).  In order to secure a conviction for industrial manslaughter, the DPP is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the PCBU (or their senior officer) caused the death and was negligent in doing so.  However, it remains to be seen whether “negligent” will be interpreted in the usual, common law way, or more broadly.

If found guilty of industrial manslaughter, the following penalties may apply:

  • Companies will receive a fine of up to $12,615,000.00;
  • Individuals (including senior officers) may be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

It is important to note that whilst a breach of the industrial manslaughter provisions may result in serious penalties, the amendments to the Act do not impose additional duties on a PCBU or their senior officers.  The amendments simply introduce harsher penalties for breaches of existing work health and safety obligations.

If you need advise on your work place policies, or you are being investigated for a work health and safety breach, contact one of our local experts today on (07) 4963 2000 or via our online contact form.

*   For the purpose of the industrial manslaughter provisions, the term “person” includes natural persons and corporations.
** Also extends to circumstances where a worker is injured and later dies as a result of those injuries.

Dannielle Woodward
Litigation & Dispute Resolution