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In its Industrial Relations policy, the newly elected Labor Government under Premier Peter Malinauskas has vowed to introduce “laws that will apply where an employer acts recklessly and their actions are the primary cause of an employee’s death.” The new laws would significantly increase the maximum prison term to 20 years for company officers who negligently breach their duty to provide a safe workplace. The Premier has stated there are "too many avoidable injuries and deaths in workplaces", and that the Labor party will "introduce industrial manslaughter laws with a focus on avoiding preventable deaths".

The Law Society of South Australia has opposed the proposed industrial manslaughter laws noting “there is no need to introduce a new law when existing laws already cover employer negligence causing death.” This position has been supported by the recently strengthened Work Health and Safety laws which cover reckless actions that cause a workplace death and the offence of manslaughter in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. The Law Society maintains the new industrial manslaughter offence would only add an unnecessary layer of complexity to an area of law which it does not deem deficient.

Since early 2022, industrial manslaughter laws have been in effect in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. While there has been some opposition to the proposed laws, it appears that South Australia will now follow suit and become the latest state to create an offence of industrial manslaughter.

The first convictions for industrial manslaughter have already been handed down in Queensland with the court imposing a $3,000,000 fine on Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (R v Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd & Ors [2020] QDC 113). Earlier this year a Gympie businessman was convicted under the new industrial manslaughter laws and received five year jail sentence over a workplace related death.

In light of the proposed laws, a person conducting business or undertaking in South Australia should ensure they understand their health and safety duties and guarantee the health and safety of their workers by:

  • Identifying potential hazards and undertaking an assessment of risks in the workplace
  • Reviewing current safe systems of work and ensuring they are effective
  • Keeping adequate records of work health and safety policies, plans, responses, reviews and assessments
  • Providing an update to all key individuals within your organisation about the proposed changes

If a fatality occurs at the workplace, a lack of resources or awareness in relation to health and safety obligations will be no defence to the proposed offence. If you would like more information on industrial manslaughter and how proposed reforms may ultimately affect your business please contact our experienced Employment and Workplace Relations team for assistance.

This article was contributed to by Law Clerk, Maida Mujkic.