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Death of a Tradesman: More Legislation?

By Sally McCutcheon

23rd August 2017

Six deaths in two high-profile accidents at Eagle Farm Racecourse and Dreamworld in October 2016 led the Queensland Government to announce in May 2017 its intention to establish a new workplace health and safety (WHS) offence for ‘negligence causing death.’

Although announced in May, no further information has been released at this stage and we are still awaiting further details of the proposal and its implementation.

Currently, there are two actions that may be brought against executives of corporations for WHS incidents that lead to fatalities: manslaughter charges, or a ‘Category 1’ offence under the WHS Act.

The requirements and penalties for these differ substantially. Manslaughter requires an unlawful killing, and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In contrast, Category 1 WHS offences involve the breach of a duty of care exposing a person to the risk of death, serious illness or serious harm. The maximum penalty is only 5 years imprisonment, along with fines of up to $600 000 for officers.

The new offence of negligence causing death would be a discrete version of manslaughter, applied only in the context of WHS accidents. The intention of the offence is presumably to impose larger penalties than currently are possible under WHS legislation, even when a workplace accident results in someone’s death, and in circumstances where a standard manslaughter charge would be inappropriate.

Similar offences have been considered in the past by Queensland and other jurisdictions, but only the ACT has created a similar offence. There have been no successful prosecutions.  We will provide further updates about this new offence once the Queensland Government releases more details.

Article co-authored by Luke Bristow, PLT Student.

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