Government Department gets an enforceable undertaking following a workplace death

Yesterday (April 4, 2019) SafeWorkSA dropped charges against the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) over breaches of the workplace health and safety legislations that contributed to the death of 54-year-old Debra Summers, in exchange for an Enforceable Undertaking (EU). This move had been flagged earlier noting that it was unusual to accept an EU when a workplace fatality had occurred.

SafeWorkSA’s Executive Director, Martyn Campbell, spoke exclusively with SafetyAtWorkBlog earlier this week to provide more context to the acceptance of the EU. He has spoken to the Summers family in the preparation of the EU and said that some of the request of the family have been incorporated. He also outlined the circumstances of Debra Summers’ death:

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Scarlet M for Manslaughter

In March 2019, the Northern Territory government released its “Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety in the Northern Territory”. This report was written by Tim Lyons who reviewed the Queensland work health and safety (WHS) Laws not so long ago. Lyons is creating a career path as sustainable as Alan Clayton who seems to have reviewed all the workers’ compensation systems in the Asia Pacific!

There are many similarities between the two reports which is not surprising – same Model WHS laws, same reviewer….. Yes, Industrial Manslaughter laws were recommended but this is almost a pro forma recommendation at the moment, as it has been supported by at least two State governments, recommended in a Senate inquiry into industrial deaths and pragmatically recommended by the Boland Review. In many ways these WHS-related reviews are feeding off each other.

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Enforceable Undertaking related to workplace death

Several readers have raised their eyebrows over recent media reports in South Australia that say that SafeWorkSA is in the process of accepting an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) related to the death of 54-year-old Debra Summers, who was found dead in a freezer at the Echunga police training reserve on October 4, 2016. The use of EUs when a fatality is involved deserves discussion and resolution, especially when the workplace death involves a hazard that was so well-known.

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New OHS conference with prominent speakers

One of the hottest occupational health and safety (OHS) issues at the moment is Industrial Manslaughter but this is just one aspect of the enforcement of OHS and prosecution for breaches. In June 2019 a two-day conference on OHS/WHS Prosecution and Enforcement is being held in Melbourne, Australia with a list of respected speakers who are prominent in Australian labour law circles.

The conference is more expensive than some other OHS conferences but the list of speakers is impressive and the theme could not be more topical. (A brochure is available for download) Until March 15 2019, Criterion Conferences is applying an Early Bird discount of $500 for each delegate. SafetyAtWorkBlog has negotiated a further discount applicable to Subscribers only.

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More than warm lettuce needed on Industrial Manslaughter laws

Applying the most effective way to have companies comply with their occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations has been debated in Australia and elsewhere for years.  The issue will arise again in 2019 and in relation Industrial Manslaughter laws as Australian States have elections, or the political climate suits.

There are several elements to the argument put by those in favour of Industrial Manslaughter laws. Workers are still being killed so the deterrence of existing OHS laws has seen to have failed.  Deterrence has been based on financial penalties and workers are still being killed so financial penalties have failed. Jail time is the only option left.

This is a simplistic depiction of the argument, but it is not dissimilar to some of the public arguments. The reality is that deterrence is achieved in two ways – telling the person of the consequences of an action and enforcing those consequences.

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