Industrial manslaughter gains traction in the Territory27 September 2023
In February 2020 new industrial manslaughter laws took effect in the Northern Territory. In simple terms, industrial manslaughter is defined as a crime where the action or inaction of an employer leads to the death of a worker.
As industrial manslaughter has become law in various states and territories across Australia, we have seen a steady increase in prosecutions for alleged breaches. In March 2022, the Territory saw its first industrial manslaughter prosecution followed by a second in March 2023. As the national push to address unnecessary deaths in the workplace continues, it is likely that more prosecutions will follow.
The specifics of the offence
A person commits the offence of industrial manslaughter under s 34B of the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (NT) (Act) if:
- the person has a health and safety duty, and
- the person is a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) or an officer of a PCBU, and
- the person intentionally engages in conduct, and
- 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
- the person is reckless or negligent about the conduct breaching the health and safety duty and causing the death of that individual.
The penalties for an offence of industrial manslaughter are life imprisonment or a fine of up to $11.5 million (at the time of writing), which represents a significant increase on the previous maximum penalties that applied under the Act.
The law in practice
In March 2022 the new law was put into practice when NT WorkSafe charged construction company, Kalidonis NT Pty Ltd, with industrial manslaughter. The charge related to the death of a worker at a remote community in Arnhem Land when a chain allegedly failed and struck him during an excavator towing operation. The charge of industrial manslaughter was subsequently dropped (although Kalidonis still faces the charge of failing to comply with a health and safety duty).
In March 2023 a further case of industrial manslaughter was filed by NT WorkSafe against Mr Craig Williams t/a Rainbow Beach Constructions following a worker falling approximately 3.2 metres through an unguarded void.
The allegations highlight the type of reckless conduct that is intended to be captured by the new laws, in that NT WorkSafe allege that Mr Williams, the principal contractor of a two-story residential construction site, recklessly ignored repeated warnings about the risk of falls from height through voids in the upper floor after temporary scaffolding was removed and was not replaced with alternative fall protection.
Take home message
The industrial manslaughter laws do not impose additional obligations on NT employers in terms of compliance with work health and safety duties. The key difference is the nature of the charges, and potential significant penalties, that may flow from a breach. It is therefore crucial for employers to be proactive regarding their health and safety obligations, particularly when potential issues are brought to their attention.
Daria is an experienced WHS and employment lawyer who works collaboratively with clients across a range of sectors in the Northern Territory (NT) and South Australia (SA). Having spent time in the NT, Daria has a focus on helping to empower NT-based employers and insurers and support businesses to succeed through offering straightforward and commercial advice. For more information on our NT practice, please contact us at email@example.com.