Business groups have come out against the Victorian Government’s recently introduced workplace manslaughter law, which if passed will impose fines of around $16 million and up to 20 years jail for employers responsible for negligently causing death.
The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the employers.
The legislation will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public.
Earlier this year, the Victorian Government announced a workplace manslaughter implementation taskforce to help develop the new laws, which if passed will fall under WorkSafe Victoria with powers under the OHS Act to prosecute employers.
However, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Mark Stone said he is not confident that the full range of potential consequences of this legislation has been fully considered.
“With such significant penalties it is vital that the Government gets this law right,” he said.
“The new law must have safety as its number one objective and be workable, proportionate, fair, support continuing collaboration on safety and avoid unintended outcomes.”
Stone said employer groups have proposed a number of improvements to the drafting of the legislation that would have enhanced its safety objectives.
“We consider that without some changes the legislation may result in unintended consequence and have detrimental effects on safety, investment and jobs,” he said.
“Once introduced, a workplace manslaughter offence should apply to anyone who has engaged in criminally negligent conduct resulting in death, not just organisations and senior officers.”
He also said the law will disproportionately impact small business.
“Put simply, the operators of smaller enterprises are more likely to have a hands-on role in the business,” said Stone.
“Overseas experience has shown that they will likely bear the brunt of these laws.”
WorkSafe Victoria also needs to ensure its officials are prepared to manage the complexities of a manslaughter case (currently, manslaughter investigations are conducted by Victoria Police officers), said Stone.