Tough new Victorian laws see employers criminally liable for workplace fatalities

Tough new Victorian laws see employers criminally liable for workplace fatalities

by Freya Lucas

October 31, 2019

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) employers are among the many Victorian workplaces on alert after a recent announcement from the Victorian Government of proposed new laws that would see employers who negligently cause a workplace death facing fines of up to $16.5 million, and individuals facing up to 20 years in jail.


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. 


WorkSafe Victoria will investigate the new offence using their powers under the OHS Act to ensure employers can be prosecuted – making clear that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated.


Recently The Sector reported on a case in New Zealand where an approved provider was penalised for failing to make safe a dead tree located in the grounds of the education and care facility. In that incident, four children were hospitalised, but the provider was also penalised by WorkSafe for not ensuring the workplace was safe for employees. 


Speaking to The Herald after the New Zealand incident, Northern Investigations Manager for WorkSafe, Danielle Henry, said “This incident shows in near-catastrophic detail just how important it is for businesses to assess all risks their operations pose to workers and others.”


Whilst the New Zealand case was thankfully free of fatalities, it does demonstrate that such dangers are indeed present in the ECEC sector, making the new legislation in Victoria of note. 


Earlier this year, the Victorian Government announced a Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce to help develop the tough new laws.


Led by Victorian Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety Natalie Hutchins, the taskforce included members and representatives from business, unions, industry and victims’ families.


The Taskforce was supported by a Families’ Reference Group, which was made up of a number of families who have been impacted by a workplace death.


Victorian Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said she “cannot begin to imagine” the pain felt by families who have lost a loved one at work, adding that “all workers deserve a safe workplace.” She also said the proposed laws send a clear message to employers that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace “will not be tolerated”.


To learn more about the proposed legislation, please see here.