What is the problem that Industrial Manslaughter laws are intended to solve?

Marie Boland speaking on Day one

This week Melbourne Victoria hosted a conference about Work Health and Safety Prosecutions and Enforcement. The two-day conference, run by Criterion Conferences, focused on law and the application of that law. Occupational health and safety (OHS) was largely a subtext of the discussion, but it raised its head occasionally.

The audience of around 100 consisted of many OHS regulators and lawyers from most Australian States. This conference profile set the tone of this conference where a lot of legal knowledge and terminology was assumed even though, occasionally and not knowing the audience, a speaker trod old ground with Law 101.

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Make sure you are serious about deeper and better thinking on workplace mental health

In October 2018, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported (paywalled) on an occupational health and safety (OHS) investigation into overwork and staff fatigue being conducted by WorkSafe Victoria. The AFR has followed this with a report on June 6 2019 (paywalled) by its Legal Affairs Editor, Michael Pelly. It is a positive article about how the law firm, King, Wood & Mallesons (KWM) has improved its OHS performance since October last year. However there is much between the lines that hints at the OHS approach used and how limited it is.

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New Safety Podcast focuses on Law

One of the prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyers in Australia has started a podcast. The first episode discusses Industrial Manslaughter.

Steve Bell of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills recently published the Safety Podcast, but the title is a bit of a misnomer as, judging by the first episode, the discussion is more about safety law than safety. Regardless, the podcast adds to our state of OHS knowledge.

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Victims of industrial crime

On May 13 2019 the Australian media published articles based on research (released after embargo) conducted by the RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice and about victims of crime which those advocating for Industrial Manslaughter laws should seriously consider.

The Age newspaper reports

“Victims of crime felt let down by the system when offenders pleaded guilty to a less serious charge and did not proceed to trial ‘‘ because they wanted the opportunity to tell their story’’ , …..”

and that

“One victim interviewed during the research said they felt left out of discussions with the OPP when charges in their case were downgraded from murder to manslaughter for a plea of guilt …”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) seems a little ahead of the game here as relatives of deceased workers have been integrated into OHS consultation in both Queensland and Victoria. Relatives had a very strong voice through the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths. Victim Impact Statements have been possible in the Courts for many years but Industrial Manslaughter laws add an additional depth to the participation of victims of industrial crime, and an additional risk of false promises.

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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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