24 Jun The Legal Consequences of Not Using Correct Height Safety Systems
You may have seen the graphic WorkSafe television ads that show how a simple careless or complacent act can lead to a worksite tragedy. These alarmingly realistic and often distressing ads act as a reminder of the importance of workplace health and safety in all settings. The most recent WorkSafe advertisement highlights the newly passed workplace manslaughter laws that allow employers to be imprisoned and fined for employee workplace deaths.
This article explains everything you need to know about the new legislation, including how it affects employers and employees. We’ll also detail how to avoid penalties and keep your employees safe by using the correct height safety equipment.
The Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019
Jill Hennessy, the former Minister for Workplace Safety, said that “Too many Victorians have had their lives tragically cut short after simply going to work and this new offence will hold employers who don’t put safety first to account.”
New workplace manslaughter laws were introduced after the Victorian Parliament passed the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019 on the 26th of November in 2019. The laws are broad, with the potential for employers, organisations and senior officers to be found lawfully responsible for workplace deaths. The law covers the deaths of workers, contractors and bystanders.
What are the penalties?
Employers face a maximum imprisonment of 20 years, and fines for companies range up to $16.5 million. The law went into effect on the 1st of July in 2020.
Who can be charged?
Any person (or their officers) under Part 3 of the OHS Act can be charged with workplace manslaughter. That applies to:
– The secretary or director of a company.
– A trust’s trustee.
– The partners of a joint venture or partnership.
– An organisational member of a business that is involved in decision making.
– An organisational member of a business that can significantly affect the businesses’ financial standing.
Employees and volunteers cannot be charged.
Where do these laws apply?
The specific details in this article relate to Victorian laws. Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory also have workplace manslaughter laws.
Has anyone been charged yet?
In 2019, a Brisbane-based recycling company was prosecuted for workplace manslaughter. During the investigation, it was found that the company did not have any written safety procedures, and they did not have a Work Cover policy. Their forklift operators were not licensed or trained, and the workers were only told to ‘be safe and look after themselves’. In June 2020, a conviction was handed down, and the company was fined $3 million.
What is negligence?
Negligent conduct is a failure to act; this includes if employers do not sufficiently manage, guide or supervise their employees. In circumstances where an employer does not adequately reduce or remove risk, this can also be deemed negligent. In a height safety environment, this could include failing to provide adequate equipment or not providing height safety training.
I am a small business owner. Are the consequences for me the same as major companies?
The manslaughter laws apply to businesses of all sizes. A duty of care to protect your employees applies whether you have 1, 100 or 10,000 workers. The maximum penalties are the same for small business owners as they are for major companies.
Failure to comply with Australian work safety regulations
Any workplace that involves working from a height has an increased risk of workplace accidents. If companies are non-compliant with practices or height safety equipment, and their negligence leads to injury or death, they may be prosecuted. These offences carry serious penalties, with fines starting at $250,000 and possible jail time.
Comply with height safety- call the experts
At Australian Height Safety Services, we do more than just ensure regulatory compliance. We are committed to protecting the safety and well-being of all workers and personnel that use our fall prevention systems. For expert advice, call our team on 1300 854 217 or contact us for more.