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Industrial/Workplace Manslaughter

Occupational Health and Safety Legislation in Victoria is likely to receive a shake up with proposed new laws on workplace manslaughter. The Andrews Labor government has set up a taskforce to discuss tough new laws designed to keep workers safe.

The Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce is developing new legislation to make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence.

The taskforce is led by Natalie Hutchins (Member for Sydenham) and includes members and representatives from business, unions, industry and victims' families.

Under the proposed new laws, employers will face fines of almost $16 million and individuals responsible for negligently causing death will be held to account and face up to 20 years in jail.

The offence will also apply when an employer's negligent conduct causes the death of an innocent person and WorkSafe Victoria will be given the power and resources necessary to ensure non-compliant employers can be prosecuted.

Currently, Queensland and Australian Capital territories have implemented industrial manslaughter laws. The Northern Territory has also recently announced plans to introduce industrial manslaughter laws within a year.

The main problem for those who promote industrial manslaughter legislation is that there is little evidence that threatening employers with longer prison sentences than those available under existing health and safety legislation is going to change behaviours and eliminate dangerous work practices.

Maybe consideration should also be given to providing better proactive mechanisms designed to prevent incidents before they occur. These could include more inspectors and site inspections, improved health and safety training and improved auditing. A greater media focus eg industry awards and sponsorship should also be considered. This would seem to be a better use of resources than using a bigger stick for punishment purposes. Watch this space...

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