Labor’s pre-election commitments to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (VIC) (the Act) announced in May last year, are set to be implemented after a landslide win in Victoria in November 2018. If implemented, the changes will increase the maximum fine for death caused by an employer’s negligence to nearly $16 million, making it the nation’s highest maximum workplace health and safety fine.
Labor promised to create a criminal provision for industrial manslaughter under the Act. According to Premier Daniel Andrews, “if an employer’s negligence causes death – they will be held to account. That doesn’t just mean thousands of dollars in fines, that means millions. And it’ll mean jail time – up to 20 years”.
Labor said the new penalties will act as a more vigorous deterrent, forcing employers to take Work Health and Safety seriously “and not rely on deep pockets to avoid accountability while cutting corners on safety”. To ensure this, the Premier stated that WorkSafe Victoria would be vested with more power and the resources required to carry out investigations and prosecutions in light of the new offence.
In response to the announcement, State Secretary for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, John Sekta, stated, “The current arrangements, there’s so many loopholes there. [S]ome employers … can kill people and never see the inside of a court. Or pay some fine somewhere … it’s almost become like a bit of a joke.”
Labor has also made pre-election commitments to do the following:
- Update the Act to include gender-based harassment and sexual violence under definitions of violence at work;
- Develop harsher penalties for gendered violence and sexual harassment at work; and
- Invest $12.7 million to improve Victoria’s capacity to deal with the unique health and safety risks on major construction projects.
If you would like to discuss any WHS concerns or potential compliance issues that your company may have in Victoria or elsewhere, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Jane Murray or Angharad Owens-Strauss.