Bosses in Western Australia whose workers are killed because of negligence will face up to twenty years in jail under new laws set to be introduced later this year.

In a joint statement, Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston announced the Government’s intention to introduce a new Work Health and Safety Bill which they say will modernise workplace safety laws, better protect workers and hold those responsible for any workplace deaths to account.

A key feature of the new law will be the introduction of two new offences for industrial manslaughter.

Under the new laws:

  • Bosses who commit a ‘class one’ industrial manslaughter offense – the most serious type of offense, will face up to twenty years’ jail.
  • Those who commit a ‘class two’ offense will for negligent behaviour face up to ten years’ jail.

Companies whose workers are killed because of negligence will face penalties of up to $10 million.

 The government has also announced $12.9 million in new spending on safety initiatives.

This will fund an extra 24 new full-time equivalent WorkSafe employees (including 21 new inspectors) and an extra sixteen vehicles for the WorkSafe fleet.

A new safety campaign will also be developed.

The introduction of an industrial manslaughter penalty was a recommendation of the final report of the Review of the model Work Health and Safety laws undertaken by workplace relations lawyer Marie Bowland last year.

The increase in Worksafe inspectors, meanwhile, will bring the number of inspectors up to 120 and will guarantee that a ratio of one inspector per 10,000 full time equivalent employees is met as is the case in Queensland and New South Wales.

Over the five years to 2016, 322 workers throughout Western Australia lost their lives at work.

Of these 75 deaths occurred in transport and warehousing, 60 in agriculture and fishing, 40 in construction and 38 in manufacturing.

McGowan said the new laws and increase in inspectors will help to improve worker safety.

“The boost in the number of WorkSafe inspectors will bring Western Australia in line with similar jurisdictions including New South Wales and Queensland and provide better support in workplace investigations and inspections,” McGowan said.

“The death of one worker is one too many, it’s time we introduce industrial manslaughter laws to make sure Western Australians are protected at work. 

“Prison time sends a powerful message, but we don’t want it to come to that.

“We would much rather everyone came home safe from work, and that’s why we are boosting the number of safety inspectors, to put more cops on the beat.”

Johnson said safety laws had not been updated since 1984 and were overdue for change.