Workplace manslaughter: Victoria's new workplace crime

By Simon Dewberry, Michael Cole
Corporate Governance Employment & Safety Energy Infrastructure & Transport Mining Oil & Gas Property & Development Risk & Compliance

In brief 2 min read

On 1 July 2020, the offence of workplace manslaughter came into effect in Victoria. While it differs slightly from what was enacted in other states and territories, it should have the same effect of sharpening every duty-holder's focus on safety risks and taking a more proactive approach to managing them.

Key takeaways

  • Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) commenced on 1 July 2020, introducing the offence of workplace manslaughter in Victoria.
  • It is a criminal offence that carries severe maximum penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for individuals and fines of $16.5 million for companies.

Who in your organisation needs to know about this?

Everyone – but particularly officers.

The offence

A corporation or officer commits the offence of workplace manslaughter if they engage in conduct that:

  • is negligent;
  • constitutes a breach of an applicable duty the person owes to another person; and
  • causes the death of that other person.

Negligent conduct includes an act or omission that involves:

  • a great falling short of the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the same circumstances; and
  • a high risk of death, serious injury or illness.

What does this mean?

If a corporation or officer (which can extend to senior managers) is negligent and that results in a fatality, there will be a risk of criminal prosecution under this new offence provision. Individuals will risk a lengthy sentence of imprisonment.

Next steps

Duty-holders should carefully review their safety and health risk management systems, including incident response procedures. A proactive review demonstrates a commitment to safety and an eagerness to take reasonable steps to comply with the law. Involving specialists in this task is important for a number of reasons:

  • It ensures systems and practices are up-to-date and aligned with legal requirements and best practice.
  • It is essential to ensuring that duty-holders' interests are protected in the event of a serious incident by enabling an immediate incident response that is effective and efficient.
  • Having specialists who are already intimately aware of the businesses' incident response procedures means that if a serious incident occurs, they are well-equipped to advise and assist in an immediate and informed way.
  • Relationships established between specialists and key personnel in a less stressful context equips everyone to best respond if a serious incident occurs.

Further, businesses can use panels of external lawyers to assist with health and safety matters so that the company and its individual duty-holders can seek specialist legal advice from multiple firms. This will be important if a serious incident occurs and separate representation is required for multiple duty-holders.