Western Australia’s parliament has cleared the way for industrial manslaughter laws which will enforce a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for workplace deaths.
The long-anticipated Work Health and Safety Bill passed the upper house on Wednesday night after a lengthy debate.
It will be signed off in the lower house next month and become law next year once supporting regulations are finalised.
Unions this week rallied outside Parliament House urging MPs to pass the legislation, days after a construction apprentice fell to his death on a Curtin University building site.
Jonnie Hartshorn, 23, died after falling more than 20 metres when a metal structure supporting the glass roof of the building collapsed.
WorkSafe WA is investigating what caused the incident, which also seriously injured two other workers.
Premier Mark McGowan on Thursday said he was very pleased the legislation had finally passed the upper house.
“This important bill modernises Western Australia’s outdated workplace safety laws, which were over 30 years old,” he said.
“The health and safety of Western Australian workers is one of my government’s key priorities. Every worker has the right to come home safely from work each day.”
The new bill includes penalties of between five and 20 years imprisonment for individual employers and a maximum $10 million fine for companies who knowingly engage in conduct resulting in an employee’s death on site.
Employers who neglect the safety of their employees, even if they could not have known it would cause their death, could be jailed for five years.
It will not be enforced retrospectively.
Families Left Behind spokesperson Regan Ballantine, whose 17-year-old son Wesley died in a workplace incident in 2017, said the overhaul of safety laws was long-overdue.
“The members of FLB didn’t get justice but these new laws will see the rightful consequences to be served on those who act negligently and wilfully disregard the safety of their workforce which causes the death of an innocent person,” Ms Ballantine said.
Employers will also be prohibited from using insurance coverage to cover work health and safety penalties.
UnionsWA secretary Owen Whittle said it was a historic occasion and WA would have the strongest workplace safety laws in Australia.