Workplace death offence rejected

Panel of experts rejects idea of new industrial manslaughter charge under Crimes Act, wants existing health and safety laws strengthened to include jail time in New South Wales

A panel set up by the Australian state of New South Wales has rejected the idea of a special industrial manslaughter offence for employers who cause the death of a worker, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The panel of experts was put together in late 2003 after a push by labour groups to bring in a new law under the Crimes Act.

But the four-member panel said a new law would be a backward step. Instead it’s urging the government to strengthen existing workplace safety laws, including creating a new offence with jail as the penalty for first-time offenders.

Ron McCallum, a professor at Sydney University and a member of the panel, said proving a case under the Crimes Act is too difficult. He pointed to the fact that so few cases of manslaughter involving employers have come before the courts as evidence.

“I want to see those who have been reckless or negligent in the death of a person being held responsible and I think the best way is to continue the strict liability regime under the Health and Occupational Health and Safety Act, with a higher penalty, and where appropriate, imprisonment,” McCallum told ABC.

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