Industrial manslaughter introduced in Queensland resource sector

Articles Written by Lucienne Mummé (Partner), Haerim Nam (Associate)

Amendments to safely legislation in the Queensland resource sector introduced the new criminal offence of industrial manslaughter.

In addition, the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) will be amended to require that statutory safety officers be employees of the relevant coal mine operator.

Industrial manslaughter

Industrial manslaughter is already a crime under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) and under WHS legislation in other States.  Amendments to safety legislation operating in the Coal Mining, Mining and Quarrying, Explosives and Petroleum and Gas industries will largely mirror the existing Queensland industrial manslaughter offence under the WHS Act.  The new industrial manslaughter offences came into effect on 1 July 2020.

The amendments mean that an employer or senior officer can be liable for industrial manslaughter if:

  • a worker dies in the course of carrying out work or is injured in the course of carrying out work and later dies;
  • the employer’s or senior officer’s conduct causes, or substantially contributes to, the death; and
  • the employer or senior officer is negligent about causing the death by the conduct.

The relevant conduct by the employer or senior officer may be as a result of a positive action or by an omission to act which causes, or substantially contributes to, the death of a worker.  

For corporate entities a ‘senior officer’ is a person who is concerned with, or takes part in, the corporation’s management, whether or not the person is a director or given the name of executive officer.  

Generally, the individual’s participation in decision making processes and the individual’s ability to influence safety outcomes will be taken into account in determining whether an individual is a senior officer for the purposes of the provisions.

Statutory safety officers will not be ‘senior officers’ unless they also hold a senior management role with the employer.

A corporation found guilty of the crime of industrial manslaughter may be liable for a fine of up to $13.3 million and an individual may be liable for up to 20 years imprisonment.

Coal mining industry - appointment of statutory safety officers

The Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) will be amended to introduce a requirement that certain statutory safety officers be employees of the coal mine operator.

The new requirement applies to the appointment of the following statutory safety officers:

  • site senior executives (including temporary appointments during an absence);
  • a person holding an open cut examiner’s certificate of competency to carry out the responsibilities and duties in surface mine excavations;
  • underground mine managers (including alternative underground mine managers);
  • a person holding a relevant certificate of competency to be responsible for the control and management of underground activities when the manager is not in attendance;
  • a person holding a relevant certificate of competency to have control of activities in explosion risk zones;
  • a person holding appropriate competencies to control and manage the mechanical and electrical engineering activities of the mine; and
  • ventilation officers (including temporary appointments during an absence).

The objective of the amendments is said to be to ensure that statutory safety offices have permanency of employment and can make safety complaints, raise safety issues or give help to an official in relation to a safety issue without fear of reprisal or impact on their employment. 

The transition period for compliance with these new appointment requirements means coal mine operators have until November 2021 to ensure these statutory roles are transitioned to direct employment.

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