Understanding industrial manslaughter

The Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Amendment Act 2019, which incorporates an industrial manslaughter offence, commences on 1 February 2020.

Previously workers could be prosecuted under the manslaughter offence provision in the Criminal Code Act for breaching a health and safety duty that caused the death of a person. Bodies corporate can also be prosecuted, however, they could not be punished as life imprisonment cannot be converted to a financial penalty.

The industrial manslaughter offence ensures all businesses, regardless of the business size, face the same level of penalty if reckless or negligent conduct causes a workplace fatality.

When industrial manslaughter applies

Industrial manslaughter will only apply when all of the components of the offence are proven.

A person commits the offence of industrial manslaughter if:

  • the person has a health and safety duty; and
  • the person is a person conducting a business or undertaking or an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking; and
  • the person intentionally engages in conduct; and
  • the conduct breaches the health and safety duty and causes the death of an individual to whom the health and safety duty is owed; and
  • the person is reckless or negligent about the conduct breaching the health and safety duty and causing the death of that individual.

A charge of industrial manslaughter can only be laid for a death or conduct leading to a death that occurred after the commencement.

Consent to prosecute

The Regulator may bring proceedings for industrial manslaughter only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The DPP must consent to the industrial manslaughter charge after reviewing the evidence produced by the investigation. The DPP must be satisfied that there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, which means the evidence need to be adequate to persuade a jury beyond reasonable doubt.

No additional duties

Industrial manslaughter does not impose any additional duties.  The introduction of the offence affects available penalties for breaches, not existing safety duties.

Penalties

If convicted of industrial manslaughter, the maximum penalties apply:

  • Life imprisonment for an individual; or
  • 65 000 penalty units, $10,075,000 under 2019-20 penalty unit rate.