The judgement against GN Residential Construction P/L, part of the Ganellen group, is now publicly available. GN/Ganellen pleaded guilty to work health and safety breaches that lead to the death of a young worker (Christopher Cassaniti) and serious injuries to another worker (Kahled Wehbe), and was fined $900k. The judgement provides much more detail than the media reports at the end of last year, with important information about scaffolding and also a requirement to establish a “Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard Working Group”. The curious part of this latter requirement is that New South Wales has had an industry standard for scaffolding since 2008.
Three years ago, WorkSafe Victoria indicated that it would consider prosecuting farmers for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. That possibility seems to have disappeared based on the latest Minister for Workplace Safety’s appearance at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC).
Statistics are vital to any decisions about occupational health and safety (OHS). Safe Work Australia (SWA) does a great job providing statistical packages based on the data sources it can access. Last week SWA released its 2019 report on “Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities” which identified vehicle collisions as, by and large, the most common cause of worker fatalities. This category may be a surprise to many readers but perhaps the most important part of the report is what is omitted.
Western Australia’s Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are now in effect. The same arguments for and against were posed in Parliament and outside as they were in Queensland and Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory well before that. The IM laws will face the same institutional hurdles to application and offer the same, nominal, deterrent effect.
But WA also prohibited insurance policies that cover the financial penalties applied by the Courts. Such policies may make good business sense in managing risk, but they also remove the pain and deterrence intended in the design and application of Work Health and Safety laws.
Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).
James Curtin and I have been trying to find time to sit down and talk about occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws ever since I interviewed trade unionist Dr Gerry Ayres in 2018. The most recent IM laws have recently passed in Victoria and James and I finally found some time to talk.
Below are the personal and professional points that James made in the interview. The rest of the article contains the full interview.
- Workplace manslaughter has not been found to improve safety and pushing ahead with a model that excludes some duty holders from the offence was/ is wrong
- There was no gap in the law that this new offence sought to fill. It was an ideologically fuelled position.
- The model should have been one in all in (like reckless endangerment) or one out all out (and replicate the UK’s Corporate Manslaughter Laws)
- Working for an employer or employee organisation is a great privilege. You need to represent your constituents effectively but in doing so be mindful of any bias. Some Associations represented their members very well throughout this debate. Some did not. That was very disappointing.
- Employers have to take their OHS obligations seriously. WorkSafe play a vital role in regulating Victoria’s OHS laws.
- If you are in business you have to take your obligations seriously. Everyone should have the opportunity to start a business, if they wish, but they must have high regard to their obligations. An effective way of ensuring this is through regulator involvement – proactively and reactively.
- Compliance and enforcement needs to be looked at differently. Larger fines and custodial sentences is not the answer. Each case needs to be dealt with on its merits and enforceable undertakings can play an integral role
The coronavirus pandemic may have disrupted plans for International Workers Memorial Day, but it also has taken some of the sting out of the activation of Victoria’s Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws on July 1 2020.