Plans to introduce Industrial Manslaughter laws in Western Australia are receiving a mixed reaction – an industry representative says the move will “not stop worker deaths”, and a union secretary says those opposed to the laws are trying to protect their “ability to profit from the exploitation of others.”
Last week, the WA Government announced a new Work Health and Safety Bill that includes industrial manslaughter offences punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment (see related article).
Premier Mark McGowan said the Bill would modernise workplace safety laws, better protect workers, and hold those responsible for any workplace deaths to account.
However, Master Builders WA (MBWA) Construction Director Kim Richardson said the building industry would not support the State Government’s move to introduce industrial manslaughter offences because they were not a proactive measure to improve safety.
“Industrial manslaughter laws will not improve workplace safety. Penalties don’t save lives, whereas training, education and an ingrained culture of workplace safety does.”
“Just last year, the State Government’s inquiry into modernising WA safety laws came up with 44 recommendations but industrial manslaughter was not one of them, making this recent announcement a surprising development.”
“New occupational health and safety penalties were introduced in October. We need at least three years to see the impact of these before considering further changes to the laws.”
Richardson said that whilst MBWA supports boosting WorkSafe inspector numbers, it believes negligence which contributes to injury or death on a worksite should be dealt with by the justice system and those penalties are already in place.
“There has been a steady downward trend in work-related injuries and fatalities since 2007. Both workers and employers are better served by keeping the focus on practical safety instead of a new round of legislative change.”
This view was met harshly by CFMMEU State Secretary Mick Buchan, who called Richardson’s words “greed inspired, sycophantic bullshit”.
“Master Builders have become nothing but a public apologist for a small group of powerful builders in Western Australia who want to protect their ability to profit from the exploitation of others.”
“Their comments are designed to protect the directors and managers of these big companies from ever having to face the consequences of decisions that place their financial aspirations above the life, safety and dignity of working people.”
Buchan said penalties must directly impact the life of decision-makers, so that company directors stop thinking about the ‘minimum protection required’ and start thinking about the ‘maximum protection available’.
“Safety costs money. And while the penalties for breaches are purely financial, decisions will be made on a purely financial basis.”
“Right now it costs less to pay the fines for killing a worker than does to provide a safe workplace.”
“Companies and individuals can also indemnify themselves against a conviction. They pay insurance. And if they’re found guilty then the fine is simply paid out by the insurance company.”
“So killing a worker through negligence and greed has become just another business cost that’s already factored into their annual expenditure.”
Under the new laws:
- Bosses who commit a class one industrial manslaughter offence, the most serious offence, will face up to 20 years’ imprisonment.
- Bosses who commit a class two industrial manslaughter offence, for negligent behaviour, will face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.