ACT aligns its industrial manslaughter offence to health and safety law

By Angela Kelly, Helen Donovan
Employment & Safety

In brief 3 min read

On 5 August 2021, the ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2021 (the Act). Once commenced, the Act will:  

  • move the existing industrial manslaughter offence from the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) (Crimes Act) into the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT) (WHS Act);
  • broaden the circumstances where industrial manslaughter charges may be brought – to include, for example, where action or conduct causes the death of a member of the public, a sub-contractor, visitor or employee of another employer; and
  • increase the maximum penalty for body corporates to $16.5m.

Key takeaways

As set out in the Explanatory Statement, the amendments do not change the policy underpinning the offence that was originally introduced in 2004 in the Crimes Act. However, the intention is to:

  • align the industrial manslaughter offence with other work safety offences; and
  • enable 'systematic safety failings', including the conduct of senior officers, to be taken into account in relation to a death.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) or an officer of a PCBU commits an offence if they:

  • have a health and safety duty under the WHS Act;
  • engage in conduct that breaches a health and safety duty;
  • the conduct causes:
    • the death of a worker;
    • the death of another person; or
    • an injury to a worker that later causes death of the worker; and
  • are negligent or reckless about causing the death.

According to the Explanatory Statement, the existing standard of proof in the ACT for criminal negligence or recklessness will be applied to the new offence.

Individuals who are convicted of an industrial manslaughter offence could face a prison sentence for a term of up to 20 years. Under the new law, the maximum penalty for a body corporate convicted of the offence will be $16.5m (which is more than 10 times the current maximum penalty of $1.62m).