Published: 18 March 2019
Author: Stringer Clark WorkCover Law team

Fatalities caused by unsafe work practices signal need for further change

A timely reminder comes in the wake of another fatality on a Victorian worksite. WorkSafe Victoria issued a safety notice following the death of a Victorian employee who died after falling from a steel cage while clearing ice from pipework with a fire hose.

This notice comes just days after WorkSafe issued a safety notice following the death of a 27-year-old male after being electrocuted by overhead powerlines while undertaking roadside tree trimming.

These fatalities are a stark reminder that safety on every worksite is paramount. In a media release issued by the Victorian Government on 1 February 2019 it was reported that 23 people died in the workplace in 2018. Alarmingly, it is reported that 7 of these workers were under the age of 25 years. WorkSafe reports there have been 7 deaths on Victorian worksites so far in 2019, including the death of a 19-year-old after he was electrocuted while installing an air-conditioner on the roof of a property.

The Victorian Labor Government recently reported that they are working on the establishment of an implementation taskforce and the introduction of manslaughter charges relating to workplace deaths. This task force will include amongst other things, a Serious Incidents Reference Group to ensure that families of those who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents can provide a contribution to reforms to the current workplace laws.

The introduction of such laws would be similar to those that apply in Queensland which were passed by parliament in response to the deaths at the Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast in late 2016. The notion of Industrial manslaughter laws being introduced in Victoria has been the topic of discussion for many years with similar laws proposed in 2012. On 29 May 2012, these proposed legislative changes were rejected by the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament.

It is a timely reminder to not only employers but to employees to keep themselves and others safe at work. We all need to speak up about hazards and think safety first. WorkSafe has previously lodged awareness campaigns about deaths on farms after statistics had shown that 30 per cent of workplace fatalities occurred on farms.

WorkSafe is currently running an awareness campaign to promote the safety of emergency response workers and healthcare worker who face abuse on the job. The campaign “It's never ok” promotes awareness and appreciation for our healthcare workers with WorkSafe citing the shocking statistic that 95 per cent of all healthcare workers have experienced verbal or physical abuse on the job.

Employees are being encouraged to drive change in all industries and insist on working in a safe working environment. 
WorkSafe has committed to targeting high-risk industries this year in an attempt to reduce the rate of deaths occurring on worksites across Victoria. In 2018 it is reported that WorkSafe conducted more than 48,000 site inspections.

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