Work health and safety and the criminal law in Australia

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Johnstone, Richard
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2013
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Abstract

This paper analyses recent Australian debates about the use of the criminal law in work health and safety regulation. It argues that these debates have to be seen in the context of the historical development of work health and safety regulation in the United Kingdom and Australia. The first part of the paper shows that, since the late 19th century, contraventions against the Australian work health and safety statutes have not been regarded as 'really criminal', and have largely been addressed by informal measures and, since the 1980s, by administrative sanctions. When prosecutions have taken place, work health and safety issues have been individualised and decontextualised, so that defendants have been able to reduce their culpability in the eyes of the court. Significant legal barriers have undermined the use of the crime of gross negligence manslaughter against corporations and individuals. The second part of the paper analyses recent debates about restructuring gross negligence manslaughter and bolstering the 'criminality' of offences under the work health and safety statutes. It argues that the latter debate has been constrained by the historical forces examined in the first part of the paper, and that the current position, embodied in the recently harmonised Work Health and Safety Acts, favours attempting to recriminalise the work health and safety legislation. The debate about reforming gross negligence manslaughter has stalled.

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Policy and Practice in Health and Safety
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11
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2
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© 2013 IOSH Services Limited. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.
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Criminal Law and Procedure
Public Health and Health Services
Policy and Administration
Law
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