The Northern Territory Government has introduced an Amendment Bill creating the WHS offence of industrial manslaughter, with maximum penalties of “imprisonment for life” for individuals and 65,000 penalty units (currently equating to $10,205,000) for bodies corporate.

The Territory Government had flagged the move two months ago and revealed its Bill schedule early this week, pointing to the current anomaly where a sole trader could be jailed for work-related manslaughter under the Criminal Code, while a body corporate couldn’t even be charged with the offence.

The 10-page Bill states that a “person” commits the offence of industrial manslaughter if “a) the person has a health and safety duty; and b) the person intentionally engages in conduct; and c) the conduct breaches the health and safety duty and causes the death of an individual to whom the health and safety duty is owed; and d) the person is reckless or negligent about the conduct breaching the health and safety duty and causing the death of that individual.”

It states that if a judge is not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of industrial manslaughter, the judge can find the person guilty of an alternative offence (under section 31 or 32 of the Territory WHS Act).

The limitation period for prosecutions in section 232 of the Act doesn’t apply to industrial manslaughter or to a guilty verdict for an alternative offence, it says.

Under the new laws, the regulator must obtain the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before bringing proceedings for industrial manslaughter.

Opinon: 

This really does appear to be the trend now across Australia. There has been talk for many years about how light some sentences are for fatalities in particular and should certainly give companies cause for contemplation about the level of safety they provide in the workplace. It’s my hope that these laws are reflected around the country in time but it is my fear that no-one will take them seriously until someone is prosecuted and found guilty with a prison sentence. 

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