TODAY in Australia you have more chance of coming home from a day’s work in the armed forces than in the construction industry.
And that sobering statistic has once again been brought sharply into focus with the death of a man in his 30s, a father of two, at Wallen in a trench collapse a fortnight ago.
As Australia celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday, there was no celebration for this man’s wife and his two young children who will grow up without their dad.
Unfortunately, the story is all too familiar with 15 Victorians killed at work to date this year, including local men Charlie Howkins, from Broomfield, and Jack Brownlee, who died in March in a Delacombe trench collapse.
No one should have to go through what Charlie’s wife, Lana Cormie and the Brownlee family have endured these past six months after their loved ones failed to return home from a day on the job.
While it is important to note that the WorkSafe investigations into the three trench deaths this year are ongoing and no charges have been laid, the sad truth is that workers will continue to die until occupational health and safety (OHS) is taken seriously in all Australian workplaces.
The focus needs to be on people, not the bottom line.
The state government wants to introduce a workplace manslaughter law as part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
Under the proposed new law, employers will face fines of almost $16 million and individuals responsible for negligently causing death will be held to account and face up to 20 years in jail.
As it stands, Victoria has no industrial manslaughter law. The proposed new law will be separate to current OH&S legislation.
Under the existing Occupational, Health and Safety Act, a corporation can be fined up to $3.171 million, while individuals face fines of up to $285.426 for breaches of legislation. The fine is rarely, if ever, prosecuted to maximum levels.
The question is: Is that enough? If a person is convicted of culpable driving causing death, they can face up to 20 years in jail, so should culpability in workplace deaths carry equally as heavy a penalty?
For Dr Cormie and the Brownlee family, it is simple - bring in the legislation and it may be the impetus for the implementation of safe work cultures across Australia. It also may serve as a warning to workplaces about cost-cutting.