Industrial manslaughter laws are (still) unlikely to save lives in the workplace

In June 2018, Rick Sarre, now the Dean of Law at the University of South Australia’s School of Law, wrote an article in The Conversation titled
Why industrial manslaughter laws are unlikely to save lives in the workplace“. On the eve of the #safetyscape conference and an upcoming conference on enforcement in which presentations on Industrial Manslaughter laws will feature, SafetyAtWorkBlog asked the very busy Professor for an update on some of the themes and thoughts in his article. Below are his responses.

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Industrial Manslaughter – still thin on details and justification

Shortly after a SafetyAtWorkBlog article on occupational health and safety in the Australian federal election campaign, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) release media statements. It is a coincidence but one I should have anticipated as yesterday was International Workers’ Memorial Day.

The Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Brendan O’Connor, and Shadow Assistance Minister, Lisa Chesters, said that Australia’s work health and safety laws:

“are no longer harmonised or adequate,…..

This is the closest we will get to an admission that the harmonisation of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws in Australia has been a failure. Both the ALP and the Liberal/National coalition have responsibility for this failure. the harmonisation process was announced by the Liberal’s John Howard, but the Labor Party had the running of the process for most of its length. Many States introduced the laws but both political parties in Victoria have refused to participate, based on flawed economic assessments. The continued disinterest from Victoria’s Labor Party in harmonisation remains puzzling.

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Would Reckless Endangerment improve safety and health more than would Industrial Manslaughter laws?

The reckless endangerment provision of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 is likely to be crucial to this year’s discussions on Industrial Manslaughter laws and the management of workplace health and safety more generally, particularly as Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, has announced an implementation taskforce that includes a Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group.

Section 32 says:

“A person who, without lawful excuse, recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another person who is at a workplace in danger of serious injury is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to—
(a) in the case of a natural person, a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years, or a fine not exceeding 1800 penalty units, or
both; and
(b) in the case of a body corporate, a fine not exceeding 20, 000 penalty units.”

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The Challenges of Future Workplaces – Part 1

This article is part one of an edited version of a keynote presentation I made at the a special WHS Inspectors Forum organised by WorkSafe Tasmania.  The audience comprised inspectors from around Australia and New Zealand.  I was asked to be provocative and challenging so posed some questions to the audience about how occupational health and safety (OHS) is managed, regulated and inspected.

The audio of the presentation is available at SoundCloud and Podbean and below.

 “The purpose of this session is to provide insight into the future challenges for work health and safety regulators due to changes in the nature of work, the workforce, supply chains, and the social and political environments, and encourage inspectors to consider how the way they do their work may need to change to meet these challenges.”

Be Critical

I encourage you all to analyse what you say, what you are told, what you do and how you do it.  Too often we accept information and our situations uncritically and I want you to question everything, including what you read in this article.

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Industrial Manslaughter is more than just a law, it is a cry for justice.

For those Australians who are watching the latest political push for Industrial Manslaughter laws, it is important to remember that the activity has a history that extends over a decade.  Many of the current arguments for and against have been addressed previously.  In August 2004, the earlier iteration of this blog, Safety At Work magazine, printed a special edition on “The Australian Industrial Manslaughter Debate”.  Below is an edited version of my Editorial in that magazine. A longer article on the issues raised in that edition is available elsewhere in the SafetyAtWorkBlog.

 

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