So, Victoria now has Industrial Manslaughter laws. Now what? Within days of the activation of these laws a worker died at the Thales worksite in Bendigo. This location is covered by the Federal Work Health and Safety laws, but this has not stopped social media from mentioning Industrial Manslaughter. It seems now that every work-related death will be assessed through the IM lens. It may be that the threat of jail should always have been the starting point for occupational health and safety (OHS) penalties and investigations but initial responses to the IM laws have been mixed, and some seem to be more interested in what, in the past, has been a sideline to the IM discussion – deaths, in work vehicles, suicides and industrial illness.
SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to put some questions to Dr Tom Doig in early 2019 prior to the book’s release. Below is that exclusive interview.
SAWB: “Hazelwood” is predominantly a book that describes the social and environmental impacts of the Hazelwood. What, if any, overlap did workplace health and safety (WHS) and WorkSafe Victoria have in the fire’s aftermath?
TD: In the aftermath of the mine fire, a number of WHS issues have come to the fore. Firstly, in the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, a number of criticisms were made of Hazelwood’s regulatory framework, with a suggestion that there was a ‘regulatory gap’, as expressed by Mr Leonard Neist, Executive Director of the Health and Safety Unit at the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), at that time:
‘If I identify that gap as, who is responsible for regulating for the protection of public safety, regardless of what the source of the hazard or the risk is, who’s responsible for public safety, that’s where the gap probably is and I can’t—if you were to ask me right now, I can’t tell you who is responsible for regulating public safety. I’m responsible for regulating workplace safety and responsible for public safety as a result of the conduct of that undertaking, but I couldn’t tell you who is directly responsible.’
In this case, while VWA focuses on the health and safety of mine employees, they aren’t explicitly concerned with the health and safety of the general public, if a hazard – like a 45-day plume of toxic smoke – is dispersed beyond a specific workplace.
Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).
SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.
The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”. The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.
The end of the Court action* over the death of Barry Willis while he was working for Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) allows for various occupational health and safety (OHS) issues to be discussed, but a lot of the online discussion immediately after the sentencing on June 11 2020 was half-cocked and sometimes included a racist undertone. Both these elements deserve expansion.
A lot of occupational health and safety (OHS) people, including lawyers, were watching the court case involving Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) for the Industrial Manslaughter sentence, but there is a more important, practical lesson from this case involving forklifts and the positive duty of care.
One Queensland newspaper reported on June 11. 2020 stated that the BAR has been fined $3 million and the two company directors, both in their twenties, received 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended. (The judgement is not publicly available at the time of writing)
According to the prosecution case the incident involved
“….. a worker engaged by BAR … was struck by a forklift which was being reversed by another BAR worker…”
“BAR had effectively no safety systems in place. It has no system to ensure the separation of pedestrians and forklifts, which were commonly in the same work areas, and it had no system to ensure that the workers who drove forklifts were appropriately qualified and supervised. It is principally through those failures that BAR caused the death of Mr Willis.”