Industrial Manslaughter Laws are treading water

On November 13 2019 the Victorian Parliament heard detailed debate (page 93) about Industrial Manslaughter laws but without resolution. Many of the points raised were familiar and along political party lines but of particular interest was the insights provided into how that State’s political leaders perceive occupational health and safety (OHS).

Each of the speakers reiterated the importance of OHS and how all workers deserve to go home at the end of the shift – you know the cliches and the debate held plenty of them. There was also a fundamental misunderstanding by many speakers though.

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Innovation rather than complaints needed on safety

Moree, Australia – November 25, 2010: A farmer performs a maintenance routine on his John Deere combine harvester in Moree a major agricultural area in New South Wales, Australia.

The Victorian “Labor” Government has submitted its Workplace Manslaughter legislation to its Parliament. Debate is likely to begin, in earnest, from November 12, 2019. There were several surprises on which various business associations have expressed concerns, one surprise was that businesses seem to have been ignored by the government.

In many ways, the challenges are less about the legislation than what those business associations plan to do about occupational health and safety themselves.

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Silicosis – “we need to licence the industry and we need to regulate the product”

Last year the Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) had a fiery discussion on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of cutting engineered stone.  The status has changed a lot over 12 months with various Codes of Practice, new exposure limits, a National Dust Disease Taskforce and lobbying from Erin Brockovich.  However the risk of worker exposure seems too have not changed this much because it is employers who are responsible for safe workplaces and there are many layers of OHS-related communication between research and practical application.

Dr Graeme Edwards (pictured above) spoke first in the ANZSOM panel on October 29 and he came out with all guns blazing.

“Prima facie evidence of system failure. That’s what accelerated silicosis means. It is an entirely preventable disease.”

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“We need to act together to help me get my act together”

On October 21 2019, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews posted on Facebook in support of his government’s move to introduce Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws. He chose the death of Jacob Kermeen and its effect on the family in support of the need for these laws.

It is surely a coincidence that a fatality from a trench collapse was chosen for this exercise. Some of the leading advocates for IM laws are the relatives of two workers who died from a trench collapse in Ballarat in March 2018, a case being prosecuted by WorkSafe Victoria.

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One death may be too many, but it remains a prerequisite for Industrial Manslaughter laws

In Victoria there is much anticipation about the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws to the Parliament. Yesterday Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy and others hosted a meeting for some prominent IM advocates and trade unionists. Part of the reason for the meeting was that this week was the tentative date for the introduction of the IM laws to Parliament. The latest strong rumour is the Victorian Government has privately conceded that the Bill will not pass this year as expected and the Premier is moving to Plan B.

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