A year on from the deadly Dreamworld accident, new laws have been introduced that make employers criminally liable for workplace deaths.
The Queensland government has introduced industrial manslaughter legislation, which Slater and Gordon senior lawyer Jason Monro said would make employers more accountable for the safety of their workers.
According to Mr Monro, 178 Australians were killed at work in 2016 alone.
“We have seen far too many instances of negligent practices across Queensland that have resulted in a death in the workplace,” Mr Monro said.
“Until now what usually follows for these employers is a slap on the wrist and a fine, which is merely a drop in the ocean for large corporations.
“These new proposed laws will see the duty holder face a maximum sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment under the Criminal Code.”
A spokesperson for Slater & Gordon told My Business they believe the ACT is the only other Australian state or territory with such provisions in place.
“The harsher penalties should serve as a warning to employers who choose to cut corners on workplace safety that you cannot hide behind corporate structures to avoid responsibility,” said Mr Monro.
Kerry Cameron, whose husband Michael was killed in a workplace accident in 2012, said she hoped the new laws would act as a deterrent for negligent employers exposing other families to the loss she has endured.
“Nothing will ever compensate me for the loss of my husband’s life, nor will it ever bring him back,” Mrs Cameron said.
“But I hope that the threat of a criminal offence and a hefty fine will prompt employers to put the safety of their workers first.”
The announcement was made just days after a report by Employsure found that the vast majority of employers don’t fully understand their workplace safety obligations – with complexity a major reason for this situation.
“Our research found that small businesses want to improve their workplace safety, particularly around improved documentation, managing bullying, training staff and responding to an injury. They want to do more, but often don’t know how,” said Employsure managing director Ed Mallett.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.