The NSW state government has proposed new industrial manslaughter laws that will impose severe penalties on employers who place lives at risk. Under the proposal, if an employee dies while performing their work duties, their employer will be held liable. Currently, in NSW, worker deaths are not treated as manslaughter, with employers who expose workers to the risk of death through gross negligence facing up to five years’ jail time. However, in Victoria, any person found guilty of workplace manslaughter can face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals can face up to 20 years in jail.
The introduction of these new laws in NSW will bring the state in line with other states and territories that already have industrial manslaughter laws in place or before parliament. The NSW Minister for Work, Health, and Safety, Sophie Cotsis, hopes that these laws will act as a strong deterrent and prevent fatal injuries in the workplace. She emphasized that the penalties acknowledge the significant pain and suffering of the families and loved ones of workers who have died in preventable workplace incidents. The proposed laws also send a clear message to negligent employers about the consequences of placing a worker’s life at risk.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey expressed his support for the proposed laws, stating that workers’ lives should not be treated as a commodity. He believes that severe consequences should be imposed on employers who neglect their duty of care towards their employees.
In December 2022, a Sydney scaffolding company was fined $2 million for the death of an 18-year-old worker in 2019. Despite this being the highest penalty ever recorded for a SafeWork NSW offence, the victim’s mother expressed her dissatisfaction, stating that the fine was insignificant for a large company. She called for the implementation of industrial manslaughter laws as a deterrent against such incidents.
In October 2022, a director of a company in Victoria pleaded guilty to workplace manslaughter after a fatal incident involving a forklift. The court heard that the director did not follow necessary precautions and allowed the worker to be too close to the forklift. The incident resulted in the tragic death of the worker, leaving his father devastated and blaming himself for encouraging his son to work in the industry. The case against the director was the first of its kind to be prosecuted under Victoria’s new workplace manslaughter laws.