Recently, the South Australian Attorney-General introduced a bill to Parliament proposing the introduction of criminal industrial manslaughter laws in South Australia. Under the proposed laws, employers and their officers will face criminal conviction if an employee dies due to an incident at work involving grossly negligent or reckless conduct. Bodies corporate with a health and safety duty under the Work, Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) convicted of an offence will face a maximum penalty of $18 million, while sole traders or officers will face up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) employers have a primary duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers. The proposed laws do not seek to implement any new duties on employers, nor modify this existing obligation. Rather, the Government has stated that the intention of the new laws is to ensure that when a workplace death occurs, the penalty is adequate having regard to the seriousness of the conduct.
Consistent with current practices, it is the Government’s intention that alleged industrial manslaughter offences will be investigated and prosecuted by SafeWork SA, and tried in the South Australian Employment Court unless a defendant elects to be tried in the District Court.
If the bill is passed, South Australia will be the latest state or territory to legislate industrial manslaughter laws, following the implementation of similar legislation in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, and the ACT.
The introduction of this bill signals a significant ramping up of workplace safety laws in South Australia. If passed, it will potentially give rise to serious questions for many employers, including whether they can rely on insurance policies to meet some or all of the costs associated with the prosecution (and investigation) of serious workplace incidents.
The introduction of this legislation is also an important reminder to employers to ensure that they have adequate work health and safety measures in place in the workplace, and that all of their health and safety duty holders are aware of their obligations.
If you require our assistance with advice in relation to workplace health and safety, please contact us.
This article was written by Clare Raimondo, Partner and Aleksandar Vukoje, Associate.