Lawyers welcome amendments to introduce tougher penalties and offences

23rd Aug 2017

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has today welcomed legislative changes introduced into the Queensland Parliament to strengthen the State’s work, health and safety laws, including tougher penalties and offences for workplace fatalities.

ALA Director Rod Hodgson said the changes, introduced as a result of recommendations from a report undertaken into Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, were the right thing to do to ensure that workplace safety was treated seriously in preventing future fatalities.

“Unfortunately in Queensland there are still too many people forced to work in unsafe workplaces and too many businesses and employers who are not taking workplace safety seriously,” Mr Hodgson said.

“As a lawyer, I have seen this first-hand too many times – acting for families destroyed by a senseless and preventable workplace death that occurred because of an unsafe environment.  Safety at work is a fundamental cultural issue, and safety logos on T-shirts is no substitute for enmeshing safety as a non-negotiable element of all workplaces.

“For too long, a lax approach to safety has been allowed to develop because there has not been a significant deterrent in place – employers and businesses need to know they can be prosecuted and that the consequences, including jail time, will be significant if they do not take safety seriously.  

“If you kill someone on the road due to negligence, you are likely to spend time in jail; and that is precisely what should occur if those in leadership positions in business preside over unsafe workplaces which cause death and serious injury.  These changes are likely to produce productivity gains, because safe workplaces are happier and more productive workplaces.  No-one should go to work wondering whether they will make it safely through the day.  A true commitment to safety needs to be owned by each and every level of the company, from the top down.

“We particularly welcome the introduction of a new offence of industrial manslaughter, including maximum penalties of 20 years imprisonment for an individual and a maximum fine of $10 million for a corporate offender.  The message is now clear: your workplace kills someone, you can spend some of the rest of your life in jail.

“The tragic accidents that occurred at Dreamworld and the Eagle Farm Racecourse must never be allowed to happen again.  These new laws will also provide greater safety for the general community, and visitors to Queensland, not just workers.  Our tourism sector is one of Queensland's biggest economic drivers.  People visiting our beautiful State have a right to expect robust enforcement of safety.  The Dreamworld deaths were preceded by multiple expressions of concern about safety issues, over many years.  The Courts will look closer at that history, but we can be sure that the Dreamworld leadership had a less than acceptable safety culture, as evidenced by their insensitive and deplorable comments in the immediate aftermath of this preventable tragedy.  We commend the State Government for sending a strong message that safety must always be the number one priority on any worksite,” he said.

Tags: Compensation Queensland Workers' rights Rod Hodgson