Could you be a Corporate Killer?


By Terry Flanders.

To some extent, we are all able to see into the future and predict outcomes. That’s why history is so important, or in a security context ‘incident reporting’. Collected data plus analysis provides intelligence, and management decisions based on intelligence are always more likely to be successful.

So what has foresight to do with being a corporate killer? In order to answer that question, let’s collect and analyse the data.

Workplaces have been successful killing grounds for a millennia, long before the introduction of the first health and safety legislation. In Australia health and safety laws only came into existence around 1873 and over the last 140 years the frequency of implementation of new legislation has increased along with penalties and regulatory intervention.

On 1 January 2012 some Australian jurisdictions (South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia excluded) began to consolidate workplace health and safety with a national harmonisation program. Under the new legislation corporate penalties have increased to a maximum of AU$3M and individual penalties to AU$600,000 for a person conducting the business or undertaking; or AU$300,000 for an employee and/or 5 years imprisonment for individuals convicted of serious offences.

Even at this early stage we may see a theme starting to develop. Fail to genuinely implement a health and safety system and suffer the  consequences. Usually about this time executives are starting to cry ‘unfair’; asking ‘how can we be responsible for the actions of others?’ This usually is the beginning of an argument about blame and human error, but we’re not going down that road in this article.

No doubt the legal process has been accelerated by the actions of poor corporate citizens ranging from small family businesses to the likes of large public companies, like James Hardie; and of course our State and Federal Government Departments. It would seem that even in the 21st Century employers are still quite adept at killing workers even though that rate is falling, due arguably to the trickle down effect of legislative interventions.

Why are employers responsible?

Simple; an employer controls the workplace and workplace systems and processes.

A regrettable example that illustrates ‘employer workplace control’ involved G4S Custodial Services Pty Ltd who pleaded guilty and was fined AU $285,000 in the Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court on 12 August 2011 over the death of a prisoner from heat exhaustion. The prisoner was being transported in a prison van with defective air conditioning and died as a result of the five hour ordeal. The two escorting guards and WA State Department of Corrective Services have also been convicted and fined over the matter.

A human life lost because of a failure to identify, maintain and/or service faulty equipment. No doubt in order to stimulate corporate health and safety compliance, the United Kingdom introduced the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. For the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

Australian health and safety legislation didn’t develop independently and in isolation. Australian legislation is principally based on the 1972 Robens Report from Britain.

The Australia experience is not only influenced from outside our borders but could be said to be a reflection of what is happening elsewhere.

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