Laws introducing the offence of industrial manslaughter in the resources sector were passed by Queensland Parliament on 20 May 2020.
The laws will be contained in the Mineral and Energy Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020. Their commencement date has not yet been proclaimed (at the time this update was written), however it is anticipated to be imminent. The Act will introduce industrial manslaughter provisions in the Resources Safety Acts, consisting of the:
- Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld);
- Explosives Act 1999 (Qld);
- Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld); and
- Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 (Qld).
Industrial manslaughter offence
Employers or senior officers who, by their negligent conduct, cause the death of a worker face a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment for individuals, and 100,000 penalty units for bodies corporate. Currently this equates to more than $13.3 million, which is substantially higher than the $10 million penalty for bodies corporate under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).
Industrial manslaughter will be an indictable offence and the usual criminal procedural requirements will apply, including the criminal onus of proof of beyond reasonable doubt. The decision to prosecute will be made by the independent work health and safety prosecutor.
Statutory roles to become 'employees'
The Act also requires individuals appointed to statutory positions of a coal mine, such as site senior executive, ventilation officer, underground mine manager and surface mine manager, to become employees of the coal mine operator. This requirement will not apply for a transition period of 12 months after the commencement of the Act, to ameliorate the impacts on any existing statutory office holders who currently have a different employment status such as those who are contractors.
The stated aim of these amendments is to provide employment security for critical safety statutory office holders so that they feel that they can raise safety issues and make reports about dangerous conditions without fear of reprisal or impact on their employment.
The new laws complement the various resources safety and health reforms from the Palaszczuk Government, including most recently the introduction of an independent resources safety regulator, RSHQ (see our related update). The laws follow a number of significant incidents in the resources sector, particularly coal mining, and reflect union and Queensland Government views that current offences were insufficient.
Whilst hopefully there will be no cause for the amendments to be used, in the unfortunate event of a fatality in the resources sector, no doubt consideration will be given to prosecution for industrial manslaughter. Regardless of the current significant safety focus in the sector, industry must be alert to this heightened responsibility.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.