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Why industrial manslaughter laws are unlikely to save lives in the workplace

Rick Sarre writes in The Conversation (5.6.18) that simply having an offence of industrial manslaughter on the statute books cannot by itself lower workplace death rates.

‘In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that a re-elected Labor government would legislate for a new criminal offence of workplace manslaughter.

‘Designed to severely punish companies that cause industrial deaths, penalties would not only include far greater fines than currently exist but, significantly, could result in 20 years’ imprisonment for employers whose negligence has caused the deaths of their workers, visitors to a workplace, or passersby. Andrews said: “It’s my sincerest hope that these laws will never need to be used … that instead, they’ll change our workplaces and change our culture.”

‘The announcement was met with a standing ovation by delegates at the Labor conference. John Setka, the state secretary for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, was gleeful: “The current arrangements, there’s so many loopholes there. [S]ome employers … can kill people and never see the inside of a court. Or pay some fine somewhere … it’s almost become like a bit of a joke.”

‘Andrews’ idea is hardly new. Workplace (or “industrial”) manslaughter bills have been debated in Australian parliaments over many years. They have also found their way into the law, but only in two jurisdictions: Queensland and the ACT.

‘… It is often said that the mere mention of industrial manslaughter laws (with imprisonment as a possible result) raises the likelihood that collaboration between employers and employees will stall. And this would be to the detriment of health and safety in the workplace generally.’

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