Industrial Manslaughter presents an empty hook

New South Wales’ Opposition Minister for Industrial Relations, Adam Searle, spoke recently in support of the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws. In Parliament on May 5 2021, he said

“… legislation is required to enable the prosecution of industrial manslaughter and to fundamentally change the approach across industry in order to raise the standard and embed a culture of workplace safety of a much higher and more stringent nature. We need a culture that supports workplace safety in our State, not a culture, as I indicated before, that allows and encourages the cutting of corners and the fostering of unsafe workplaces…..

page 43, Hansard,

Legislation can achieve many things but not by itself, and that reality often makes such penalties like Industrial Manslaughter little more than symbolic.

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Give Duty of Care and Workers’ Compensation a good shake

At the2020 Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) annual scientific meeting, Dr David Goddard spoke about “Regulation: when expectations go unmet”. In a wide-ranging presentation Goddard spoke of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws touching on a couple of contentious governance issues:

“…… Robens-inspired law introduced the employers’ general duty of care with responsibility for self-regulation. Indeed, self-regulation is essential. Without self-regulation, duty of care simply becomes a game of who to blame if things go wrong.”

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The black sheep of safety leadership

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.

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Managing safety on a high risk TV program

Roger Graham (left) and Todd Sampson talking safety

This article was originally published on May 15 2017 and I was reminded of it this week when talking to a colleague about the management of safety on some of the current home renovation programs.

It’s a long and, I think, fascinating article that suits a leisurely weekend read.


Todd Sampson has created a niche in Australian television by challenging himself in mental and physical tasks.  His latest program is “Life on the Line“. What is intriguing about this type of TV program is how occupational health and safety (OHS) is managed in a way that does not impede the aim of the show.

SafetyAtWorkBlog spent some time with the safety adviser on the show, Roger Graham, to better understand the demands of advising film and TV productions on workplace safety.  The exclusive interview is below.

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Industrial Manslaughter in WA but Federally? Unlikely

Gold warm sunlight on CBD of Perth city as seen from Kings Park. Source: istockphoto

The West Australian government presented its new Work Health and Safety (WHS) Bill to Parliament in November 2019 and debate has continued in February 2020. Joining with most other States in using the model WHS legislation is a major change for that State as it not only brings one set of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to all businesses, including mines and petroleum, but it introduces the offence of Industrial Manslaughter. However, IM in WA has a two option penalty – “Industrial manslaughter – crime” and “Industrial manslaughter – simple offence”.

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Industrial Manslaughter campaign messages need scrutiny

Recently the State Secretary of the CFMEU Construction & General WA, Mike Buchan, wrote in Construction Weekly about the need for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Western Australia. There are several points made that deserve some assessment and clarification.

He starts by stating that current occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are inadequate. This may be the case, but as Nicole Rosie from WorkSafe NZ has, supposedly, said “you can’t regulate your way to safety”. What may be inadequate is people’s compliance with OHS laws, and there may be many reasons for this non-compliance – ignorance, illiteracy, lack of enforcement by government, complexity of laws and guidance, and/or a total disregard. According to Buchan, and the wider trade union movement, Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are supposed to fix this inadequacy.

Buchan writes that

“The penalties that are handed down, even when a builder is found guilty of negligence, have been a disgrace in the face of the extraordinary loss of life and the suffering of families left behind.”

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Interesting but not representative

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.

This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.

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