Prison time for unsafe bosses

Ewin Hannan | November 06, 2008

EMPLOYERS face jail, bigger fines and a wider duty of care under proposed changes to the nation's occupational health and safety laws.

But unions have failed to have an unqualified duty of care apply to employers in proposals put to workplace relations ministers yesterday.

The first report of a national review of the laws found the number of work-related deaths and injuries remained unacceptably high.

Each year, more than 140,000 employees are seriously injured at work, more than 250 are killed and more than 2000 die as a result of a work-related disease.

The report recommends making the most serious breaches of the laws indictable, permitting trial by judge and jury, as is the practice in Victoria and South Australia.

It also calls for a significant increase in fines, with the biggest penalties applying to serious cases of non-compliance involving recklessness, gross negligence, serious injury or death.

For these offences, the maximum fine for a corporation would be $3 million and the maximum fine for an individual would be $600,000. Jail for up to five years could also apply.

ACTU assistant secretary Geoff Fary welcomed the recognition of the serious nature of the health and safety situation. But he said unions were disappointed that a qualified duty of care would continue to rest with the employer.

Workplace relations ministers will report back on areas of agreement and unresolved matters at their next meeting.

A second report into the proposed health and safety laws is due by February.