Senate report support for tough laws on workplace deaths welcome, states must now act

18 October 2018
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers have welcomed a Senate report calling for tough laws on workplace deaths, saying a strong approach was needed to ensure employers were held to account and faced significant penalties for lax safety practices that caused preventable workplace deaths.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Rod Hodgson said the report into frameworks surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia had put a much-needed spotlight on the need for all states to take tough action to protect workers.

“This report recommends all states and territories introduce industrial manslaughter laws, following the lead of Queensland, the ACT and Victoria in acting on this,” Mr Hodgson said.

“Importantly, the report also acknowledges the need for these laws to come with hefty penalties, including recommending that workplace deaths be treated as criminal cases – something our firm has repeatedly called for in urging all states to implement industrial manslaughter laws.

“For too long many employers across the country have not taken workplace safety seriously, something we believe they have been able to get away with because there has not been a significant deterrent in place to force action.

“If a person causes a fatality on the road due to negligence then it is likely they will spend time in jail.

“That same approach must apply to employers who ignore workplace safety – they need to be held to account for preventable deaths and they need to know they too will feel the full force of the law if they fail to keep their workers safe, with authorities and regulators properly resourced to act on this.

“The recommendations from the Senate Committee that all states and territories move to introduce tough industrial manslaughter laws. As long as these laws include hefty penalties and jail time we believe it will send the strong message needed that workplace safety cannot be ignored.

“States and territories must now act on this, including ensuring that such laws are extended to also cover preventable deaths of customers and visitors to work sites – the Senate report disappointingly did not recommend this but the tragic accident at Dreamworld is a clear example of why these extended protections are needed.

“We also continue to call for industrial manslaughter laws to cover workplace illnesses including mesothelioma and silicosis, which are entirely preventable and often fatal illnesses that risk affecting thousands of workers around the country - employers must be held to account for preventable exposure illnesses under any new laws,” he said.

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