Questionable deterrence value in Industrial Manslaughter penalties

New South Wales is the latest Australian jurisdiction to introduce a penalty for Industrial Manslaughter (IM) in its occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. One of the primary aims of significant penalties like IM is to deter others from making similar negligent decisions related to workplace health and safety. But deterrence is a fickle beast.

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Trade union organiser jumps the gun on Industrial Manslaughter after mine rockfall

Last week, a miner, Kurt Hourigan, died in a rockfall in a gold mine in the rural city of Ballarat. Another was rescued, and over twenty work colleagues were able to access a safety pod and exit the mine later.

Accusations of mismanagement and deficient occupational health and safety (OHS) practices are rife. The media coverage of the disaster and its aftermath reflects the days immediately after the Beaconsfield Mine Disaster in Tasmania in 2006, where the trade union, the Australian Workers Union (AWU), dominated the provision of information. But why is the AWU calling for a prosecution for Industrial Manslaughter? And why now? Isn’t there a stronger OHS message available?

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Industrial Manslaughter fears

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has published an article about concerns by West Australian local governments with exposure to prosecution for Industrial Manslaughter under WA’s work health and safety legislation. The concerns seem wellfounded, but the article lacks a social and moral context.

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Call for Industrial Manslaughter laws after more unnecessary deaths

It was inevitable that all States in Australia would end up with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) penalties related to occupational health and safety (OHS). Tasmania is the latest to start the consultation on these laws, and again, it has required a work-related tragedy to generate the outrage that seems required for such a push.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting on the grief and outrage of Georgie Burt, one of the parents of

“….one of six children who died when a jumping castle became airborne at an end-of-year celebration at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport in 2021.”

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“made through the blood of the workers who never came home”

Last week, the Australian Parliament passed a tranche of industrial relations laws; laws that were, unsurprisingly, objected to by some business groups but included some occupational health and safety (OHS) contexts. Industrial Manslaughter was the obvious one, but pay equity and increased job certainty, if not security, for some industry sectors, has the potential to reduce job stress.

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Industrial Manslaughter distracts from what really works

South Australia’s Industrial Manslaughter Bill is being negotiated in its Parliament. New South Wales’ version is in development, and Tasmania has said it does not want to be left out, so the government has flagged its intention to have Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws. Each politician stresses the importance of these laws to deter employers from doing the wrong thing and causing the death of a worker. However, there are serious concerns about the intended deterrent effect when other occupational health and safety (OHS) measures have been shown to be more effective.

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Toothless enforcement

Ross Gittins is a prominent Australian economics journalist. In The Age on September 20, 2023, he wrote an article about the recent spate of corporations being prosecuted and penalized for breaking the law. Many of his points can also relate to companies and executives breaking occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

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