Support for workplace deaths crackdown

Jack Brownlee died at work after he was trapped waist-deep in dirt when a trench collapsed in Delacombe, in March last year.
Jack Brownlee died at work after he was trapped waist-deep in dirt when a trench collapsed in Delacombe, in March last year

More than 80 people have died at work this year and nine out of 10 people believe negligent employees should face jail time, a new survey reveals.

One in five people know someone who was killed at work, according to a new survey of 26,000 union and non-union members to be released by the Australian Council of Trade Unions today. ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien condemned the figures as he called for tough national laws against industrial manslaughter that would send negligent employers to prison.

“Currently, employers who are responsible for someone’s death will face a fine at most, and many of them can write this off on their insurance,” he said.

“This is deeply insulting to the 4000 people who have died at work since 2003 and the tens of thousands of people traumatised as a result of their deaths — their families, partners, friends and workmates.”

As of August 1, 83 people had died at work. More than 90 per cent of the survey’s respondents believe employers whose negligence results in the death of a worker should face up to 20 years in jail, with six out of 10 believing companies should not be able to insure themselves against fines for health and safety breaches. Dave Brownlee’s son died last year in a workplace incident in the northwestern city of Ballarat.

Jack Brownlee was installing water drains at a site in the suburb of Delacombe with co-worker Charlie Howkins in March last year when the trench they were in collapsed.

The 21-year-old was taken to hospital after he was crushed in the collapse. He died the next day. Mr Brownlee said every day was a struggle for him and his wife, Janine: “We don’t sleep, we’re still a mess.”

Mr Brownlee threw his support behind the union push for tougher workplace negligence laws.

He said the struggle for justice for his son would haunt him for the rest of his life: “We’re not young people. What a lovely way to spend your older years with this sort of thing hanging over your head.”

Almost 100 per cent of the survey’s respondents agreed that unions should play a role in work health and safety. Nine out of 10 said unions should be granted immediate access to worksites to investigate suspected safety breaches.