VFF fails in bid to exempt family businesses from work death laws

Sheep Central, November 28, 2019

VICTORIAN farmers have failed to have family businesses exempted from new workplace manslaughter legislation.

Under the new laws passed on Tuesday night, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.

The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the company or organisation.

Victorian Farmers Federation vice president Emma Germano said the workplace safety is a priority for every farming business.

“However, the legislation that has passed through the parliament may lead to perverse safety outcomes.”

The Victorian Farmers Federation said it had submitted well-thought amendments to the legislation that would have achieved greater fairness across all workplaces, but also led to improvements in safety standards.

“It is disappointing that the government has ignored the calls of all the employer organisations who were united in their calling for the laws to apply to employees, adequate protections for family businesses and the same legal standards under the criminal code to be extended to workplace manslaughter,” Ms Germano said.

The VFF had wanted to exempt family businesses from the legislation, with the intent of “to provide peace of mind to family members by way of protecting a person from prosecution in the instance a family member tragically died in a workplace accident.”

The government outlined during the debate that the Department of Public Prosecutions had prosecutorial discretion as to which cases should be subjected to the new workplace manslaughter legislation. But Ms Germano said this offered little confidence to agricultural community who remain fearful of being subjected to a long, expensive and emotional legal process when a family are mourning the tragic loss of a loved one.

The Andrews Labor Government making workplace manslaughter a criminal offence was an election commitment. Up to 30 people are killed in workplaces across the state every year and 20 people have lost their lives at work in 2019.

The new laws will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a non-employee. The Labor Government also recently announced a $10 million package to boost WorkSafe’s investigation and enforcement capacity, with a specialist team established to lead investigations and prosecutions of workplace manslaughter.

The package also includes clear protocols in place between WorkSafe and Victoria Police that require families to be notified as soon as possible after a workplace death or a serious injury, and including truck drivers killed on the road in the workplace death toll, ensuring these deaths get the focus they deserve.

WorkSafe Victoria will investigate the new offence using their powers under the OHS Act to ensure non-compliant employers can be prosecuted – making clear that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated, the government said.

A Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce led by Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety Natalie Hutchins and including a Families’ Reference Group, helped develop the new laws.

Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said there is nothing more important than every worker coming home safe every day.”

“I can’t begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work. I don’t want any families to suffer that type of trauma.”

“We’re standing up for working people – and better protecting those touched by tragedy – because workers deserve a safe environment when they go to work each and every day.”


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  1. Jack Cleary, February 22, 2020

    In saying that all families, of course depending on their sensibilities, suffer traumatic upheaval, depression and
    astonishment at a workplace (or other) death of a family member. It in a way diminishes that farming families feel anything less or anything more, than a city family, or one where family members are working together. The previous versions of industrial manslaughter law brought one successful prosecution, overturned on appeal. I know how easy it is on a property, to meet with disaster; using quad bikes, thrown from a horse, caught in machinery, tractor rolling forward, backwards or overturning, as with a four wheel drive. And I should include the unsafe use of unsafe chemicals. I recall some personal incidents — a tractor with brake ‘on’ rolling forward, but slowly enough to just crush me against a fence, which broke and ‘going down’ extremely ill from applying organophosphate, as trained by my neighbour who died at 65. I’ve been on horseback in country that would stop Clancy and been caught in a quagmire on horseback, up to my shins. I have studied cases of farming disasters and the causes are not very deep.

    The fact is that farmers may be careless and not mindful and their kids….often way underage drive trucks, chainsaws, operate balers, ploughing, shearing and deal in yards with livestock…and a critter can turn in a moment and stamp one to death…even a ram can quickly kill a youngster.

    A great step forward is gained if this Act addendum causes or forces farmers and others to become deadly serious about safety and machinery condition and professionally correct training.

  2. Maryann Streeter, November 30, 2019

    Welcome to the real world. Why should farmers, as employers, be exempt from the law?
    Every other employer is not exempt and is responsible for their employees by having a safe workplace, education of employees, education of work practices and making sure that their employees are working safely.
    Farmers will have to foot the bill for the Worker’s Compensation Insurance, just the same as every other employer, regardless
    of the nature of the work. The OH&S Act is there to protect all employees. It is not just a few who work behind desks, but all employees.
    Wool producers and farmers etc need to get their act together.

    • Jack Cleary, February 22, 2020

      I agree Maryanne. You also made that sense; however, ergonomic malpractice, dusts and poisons are the commonplace office problem whereas most deaths occur in industry, constructions sites and agriculture. Good on you for speaking out clearly.

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