We all know the importance of upholding WHS laws and regulations within the workplace, but the line between breaking WHS laws and being criminally liable just became a bit closer.
A recent case in Western Australia however, has brought to light for employers to be aware of and uphold all of the WHS laws and regulations for their state, if they don't want to be found criminally liable and in turn negligent - now is not the time for compliancy.
Industrial manslaughter laws are very real and from 1st July 2020 enforceable across most states. Although these new state based laws don't create any new obligations for employers, they certainly impose greater offences, subject to different legal tests.
Industrial manslaughter laws are different to WHS laws. An offence committed under WHS law is an organisation that has failed to provide a safe workplace, whereas Industrial manslaughter laws come into effect when such a failure leads to a fatality. Each state has their own individual laws and specifically for SME's, where a large percentage of their organisations are owner operated, its vital that employers and organisations as a whole have a clear understanding of these laws and obligations and the effect on their businesses.
For the tragic case in Western Australia, as reported on the ABC and HRM Online ''MT Sheds has become the first employer to be sentenced to jail (a 26 month sentence), for a workplace health and safety incident under Western Australia's workplace health and safety laws. He was convicted after pleading guilty to a charge of gross negligence, that resulted in the death of a 25 year old worker, and seriously injured another in March 2020".
Worksafe WA commissioner Darren Kavanagh told the ABC that this penalty should act as a ''significant deterrent'' and be a ''moment of awakening'' for employers who don't prioritise health and safety.
At this point in time, five Australian states and territories have passed industrial manslaughter legislation (ACT, QLD, NT, WA and VIC), a bill was introduced in South Australia parliament in 2019, but is yet to be passed. Tasmania is the only state not to have legislation on the matter.
Sue Bottrell, a WHS lawyer states ''as fines and jail times go up in one state it will absolutely have an influence on how other states react''.