End the lethal workplace

Allen Hicks

Every year about 200 Australians go to work and don’t come home. It's time for bosses who neglect safety to be held properly accountable by industrial manslaughter laws, writes ETU national secretary Allen Hicks in this piece published in the Daily Telegraph on April 29, 2016.  

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More than 30 Australians have been senselessly killed at their workplaces this year, causing needless tragedy for their families and communities.

Many of these deaths have occurred in preventable circumstances, from electrocutions, crushing and falls that need not have happened.

We have to face up to the failings in our workplaces that are continuing to cause these deaths.

Before this year was a week old, my trade had already lost one young worker. A 24-year-old man working on the roof of a suburban shopping centre, alone, was electrocuted and died on January 5. It was a preventable tragedy, but I knew it was just the beginning.

Every year about 200 Australians go to work and don’t come home. Those at the greatest risk are people in construction, transport and agriculture. But the penalties for ignoring measures that could have kept them alive are either inadequate or totally non-existent.

Yesterday was Workers’ Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. 

Keeping workers alive shouldn’t be an optional extra but., due to regulations currently enforced  that’s the way it is in most states and territories in Australia. The time has come for meaningful penalties for companies whose workers die due to lax safety.

We need criminal provisions for industrial manslaughter in all states. Australians care about fairness, and it’s unarguably fair that if employers deliberately flout safety regulations which lead to a workplace death then this should be a punishable criminal offence.

Dead workers are not a write-off. They are not an item on a balance sheet to be consigned to the loss column. They are living people with mates, spouses and kids.

Each one of the 200 annual deaths destroys or disrupts the lives of dozens of people, sometimes for years. Their absences send waves of grief and loss through entire communities, and leave holes that will never be filled.

Each year at Workers’ Memorial Day, I see the bereaved spouses and scared children of killed workers. They struggle over months and years to rebuild lives that will never be the same without their loved one. And we know the same companies responsible for these workers deaths take short cuts on safety time and again, because there is no meaningful law to deter their dangerous behaviour.

Dead workers are not a write-off. They are not an item on a balance sheet to be consigned to the loss column. They are living people with mates, spouses and kids. - ETU national secretary Allen Hicks

There are no criminal penalties for killing your workers, and the civil fines that exist for corporations are little more than a slap on the wrist. Until directors of the companies, and managers directly engaged in flouting safe work practices, face jail or other criminal sanctions their behaviour will not change.

On the last day that parliament sat in this state, they examined matters including the state of netball funding in Kiama, a mural at a high school in Fairfield, and something called the Little Ripper Drone Chopper. You cannot tell me that any of these things are more important than making sure boys and girls whose parents work in high-risk trades like mine finish the day with the same number of living parents they started it with. 

Workers’ Memorial Day is an opportunity to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace incidents and ill health and to continue our fight for justice for those workers killed in their workplace. 

Remember the dead – Fight for the living.


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