As an employer, you may face situations where a worker is seriously injured or dies in the workplace. In these circumstances, you may be liable for industrial manslaughter penalties. Industrial manslaughter laws differ between the Australian states. They aim to prevent workplace deaths and deter employers from breaching health and safety duties owed to workers. You must understand how industrial manslaughter offences arise and establish effective work health and safety systems. This will minimise the risk of workplace deaths and incurring severe penalties. This article explains the industrial manslaughter offences and penalties in each state.

Industrial Manslaughter in Australia

New South Wales

The death of a person at work may constitute manslaughter in NSW. It is captured by the category of ‘gross negligence or reckless conduct’. The offences apply when an employer is grossly negligent or reckless in breaching a health and safety duty owed to a worker and exposes that worker to a risk of death or serious injury or illness.

The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment or 6,925 penalty units (currently $761,750). An individual could face both penalties while a body corporate could face 34,630 penalty units (currently $3,809,300).

Victoria

The workplace manslaughter offences apply in Victoria when an employer negligently breaches a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker.

The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment for an individual or 100,000 penalty units (currently $16,522,000) for a body corporate.

Queensland

The industrial manslaughter offences apply in Queensland. It occurs when an employer negligently causes the death (or injury and then death) of a worker while the worker is carrying out work for the business.

The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment for an individual or 100,000 penalty units (currently $13,345,000) for a body corporate. The District Court of Queensland recently convicted an auto wrecking business for industrial manslaughter arising from the injury and death of a worker. The Court imposed a $3,000,000 penalty on the company. It also imposed a suspended 10 months imprisonment term for the directors of the company.

Australian Capital Territory

The industrial manslaughter offences apply in the Australian Capital Territory. They apply when an employer negligently or recklessly causes the death (or injury and then death) of a worker in the course of the worker’s employment.

The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment or 2,000 penalty units. This is currently $320,000 for an individual or $1,620,000 for a body corporate, or both.

A court may also require a corporation who is guilty of an industrial manslaughter offence to:

  • publicise the offence, the deaths or any penalties imposed (e.g. advertise on television or in a daily newspaper);
  • notify certain people of the offence, the deaths or any penalties imposed (e.g. publish a notice in an annual report or distribute a notice to shareholders of the company); or
  • carry out a project for the public benefit (e.g. develop and operate a community service).

Northern Territory

The industrial manslaughter offences apply in the Northern Territory when an employer intentionally and recklessly or negligently breaches a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker.

The maximum penalty is life imprisonment for an individual or 65,000 penalty units (currently $10,270,000) for a body corporate.

Western Australia

A new bill is currently being considered by the Western Australia state parliament and will likely pass into law soon. The bill proposes two types of industrial manslaughter offences.

Firstly, the ‘crime’ offence applies when an employer fails to comply with a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker, with the knowledge that their conduct was likely to cause death. The maximum penalty for a ‘crime’ offence is 20 years imprisonment and a $5,000,000 fine for an individual or a $10,000,000 fine for a body corporate.

Secondly, the ‘simple’ offence applies when an employer fails to comply with a health and safety duty owed to a worker and causes the death of that worker. The maximum penalty for a ‘simple’ offence is 10 years imprisonment and a $2,500,000 fine for an individual or a $5,000,000 fine for a body corporate.

South Australia and Tasmania

South Australia and Tasmania are not currently planning to introduce specific industrial manslaughter legislation.

Considerations for Employers

In light of the harsh penalties for an industrial manslaughter offence, you should:

  • understand the industrial manslaughter laws in your state and stay up to date with any changes in the law;
  • support the senior officers and managers of your business to understand and comply with their health and safety duties;
  • review and update your work health and safety policies and procedures to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and deaths;
  • regularly conduct training sessions and provide information to workers to ensure everyone is aware of their safety risks and obligations;
  • ensure that the induction program for new workers covers relevant safety matters;
  • prepare and maintain good records on work health and safety matters and incidents and review those records to identify any patterns and areas of risk;
  • take a proactive approach to safety matters; and
  • foster a culture within your business of taking safety issues seriously.

Key Takeaways

Employers can be found guilty of industrial manslaughter if you negligently cause the death of a worker in your business. The maximum penalties for industrial manslaughter vary in each state. They can include fines and imprisonment for individuals and fines for body corporates. You should take proactive steps to:

  • understand the industrial manslaughter offences;
  • communicate work health and safety policies and procedures to workers; and
  • keep good records of safety matters to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and deaths.

If you have any questions about the industrial manslaughter offences and penalties in your state, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

COVID-19 Business Survey
LegalVision is conducting a survey on the impact of COVID-19 for businesses across Australia. The survey takes 2 minutes to complete and all responses are anonymous. We would appreciate your input. Take the survey now.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.

The majority of our clients are LVConnect members. By becoming a member, you can stay ahead of legal issues while staying on top of costs. For just $199 per month, membership unlocks unlimited lawyer consultations, faster turnaround times, free legal templates and members-only discounts.

Learn more about LVConnect

Need Legal Help? Get a Free Fixed-Fee Quote

If you would like to receive a free fixed-fee quote or get in touch with our team, fill out the form below.

Our Awards
  • 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn
  • 2019 NewLaw Firm of the Year - Australian Law Awards 2019 NewLaw Firm of the Year - Australian Law Awards
  • 2020 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500 2020 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review
  • 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards
  • Most Innovative Law Firm - 2019 Australasian Lawyer 2019 Most Innovative Firm - Australasian Lawyer