Review Recommends Industrial Manslaughter Introduction

Former Safe Work Australia executive director Marie Boland, recently made 34 recommendations including a call for an industrial manslaughter offence to be implemented nationwide.

Industrial manslaughter laws are currenly in effect in the ACT and Queensland. Labour has pledged to introduce the laws in NSW and Victoria.

The federal government said it would not support a national industrial manslaughter law, saying that the law did not bring down the rate of workplace deaths since being introduced in The ACT.

The mother of Ben Catanzariti, the young worker killed on a construction site, has been adamantly calling for consistent workplace laws across Australia. Ms Catanzariti said it would be easier to make companies do the right thing if uniform laws were introduced throughout the country.

An industrial manslaughter charge would make employers more liable for gross negligence or workplace fatalities.

Safe Work New Research on Mental Health

Safe Work Australia released 2 research reports on the prevalence of workplace bullying and harassment and the consequences of management commitment to psychological health and safety and poor mental health on organisational productivity.

According to the report, psychological health and safety in the workplace costs employers around $6 billion annually and the concerning part about it is the  prevalence of this problematic behaviour has increased from 7 per cent in 200-2010 to 9.7 per cent in 2014-15.

It is believed that awareness of the issue may have something to do with the increase, with more people reporting workplace bullying than before.

Safe Work Australia explained the importance of the research as it is the first national collection of information on bullying in the country. It is also valuable to employers to help them commit to improving mental health in the workplace.

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Importance of Implementing a safe work method statement

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are an employer’s way of identifying and controlling health and safety hazards and risks. The preparation of a SWMS is vital before any high risk construction work can begin.

On a construction project, a person conducting a business or undertaking (employer) must not commence high risk construction work unless they have provided the principal contractor with a copy of the SWMS – it is the law. But besides complying with mandatory regulations, it will help employees remain safe in the presence of particularly high risk hazards.

Employees should ensure that they familiarise themselves with the SWMS relevant for their workplace. The SWMS will provide information about the types of high risk construction work being done, the health and safety hazards and risks arising from that work, how the risks will be controlled and how the risk control measures will be put in place.

Employers also need to ensure that work is done according to the procedures set out in the SWMS by properly supervising and training their employees.

It is also important that employees, health and safety reps, as well as contractors and their employees are consulted when the SWMS is being prepared as much as is reasonably practicable to avoid incidents where employers are not aware of the hazards and so fail to reasonable guard against them.

It is important to remember that having a SWMS in place is not enough, work must be carried out in accordance with the SWMS. If work is not being done according to the SWMS, work must be halted immediately. Work must then be adjusted so that when it resumes it can be conducted according to the SWMS.

It is also important that an employer ensures that supervisors such as foreman etc. have the adequate training to understand and implement the SWMS and the authority to ensure the work is being done in accordance with the SWMS.

The employer must also ensure that all workers involved in the high risk construction have the information and instruction to understand the hazards and risks stemming from the work, understand how to implement the risk controls in the SWMS and implement it and know what to do if the work is not being done according to the SWMS.

The employer should ensure that the SWMS is available on request to any worker engaged in high risk construction work as well as the health and safety reps, inspectors and any other worker on the premises.

This SWMS must be kept and be available for inspection until at least the high-risk construction work is completed and wherever a SWMS is revised and all versions must be kept on site. It is best that the SWMS is kept on the worksite where the high risk construction work is being carried out.

Just like any safety plan, a SWMS must be reviewed regularly to make sure it remains effective. A SWMS must be reviewed and revised if necessary before any change is made to the way the construction work is carried out, before a new system of work is introduced or before the place where the work is being carried out is changed. It should also be revised if a new hazard is identified or if new information about a hazard arises and if a notifiable incident occurs in relation to the construction work.

The SWMS should also be reviewed if a control measure does not control the risk or a request for a review is received from a health and safety representative.

It is also vital to ensure that all workers involved in high risk construction work have received the necessary training and certification such as the White Card and are in possession of a high risk licence.


Safety Awareness during High-risk Construction Work

Quite often workers involved in high risk construction aren’t aware of the severity of the risks associated with the work they are undertaking and this can fuel an attitude of complacency, which in turn can lead to accidents on the construction site, accidents which can cost workers their lives or in the least cause them painful and inconvenient injuries.

High risk construction work is labelled “high risk” for a reason and it is important that workers are properly trained and certified to carry out certain high risk tasks.

Firstly workers need to understand what constitutes “high risk” construction work and what is required of them in these circumstances.

According to WorkCover NSW, high risk construction work is any hazardous construction work that has the potential to harm the health and safety of people or to damage plant and equipment.

WorkCoverNSW describes high risk on their website as construction work which:

  • involving asbestos, explosives or diving work

  • carried out in an area in which there are artificial extremes of temperature

  • involving a risk of falling more than two metres or is carried out on a telecommunication tower.

  • including building or demolition work involving:

  • tilt-up or precast concrete

  • structural alterations or repairs to a structure that requires temporary support to prevent collapse

  • the demolition of a load bearing part of a structure

  • the demolition of any part of a structure that is likely to affect its physical integrity.


Some construction work is classified as high risk simply because of where it is carried out. For example work in or near a confined space, shaft or trench with a depth of more than 1.5 metres or a tunnel is high risk.  WorkCover NSW also provides a list of other environments that can be classified as a high risk environment:

  • pressurised gas distribution mains or piping

  • chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines

  • energised electrical installations or services

  • area where there are artificial extremes of temperature

  • area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere

  • road, railway, shipping lane or other traffic corridor that is in use by traffic other than pedestrians

  • area at a workplace in which there is any movement of powered mobile plant

  • water or other liquid that involves a risk of drowning.

It is important that those in control of the site are aware of what activities are high risk because a safe work method statement (SWMS) must be prepared for all high risk construction work. If a SWMS is not developed, accidents can occur and the company is likely to be fined and/or prosecuted by authorities.

A common cause of accidents on construction sites is falls from heights. It is compulsory that any work from a height above 2 metres has a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is prepared because it too is classified as “high risk”.

It is also important that all workers on site have completed construction safety induction training, because this training covers general construction safety and touches on a number high risk construction tasks which workers need to be familiar with.