Improving investigation, prosecution and family support for workplace fatalities

In October 2023, WHS ministers asked Safe Work Australia to undertake a stocktake of jurisdictional initiatives and reforms to improve the framework for investigating and prosecuting workplace deaths and serious injuries. Ministers also asked Safe Work Australia to provide advice by the end of April 2024 on what more could be done, with advice informed by consultation with affected workers and their families.

This project has been an opportunity to find out about the progress made by jurisdictions, such as implementation of the National Principles to support families following an industrial death. It has helped us consider how to better support families who have lost loved ones following a workplace fatality and workers who have suffered from a serious workplace injury, within the WHS framework.

Our data shows on average each year around 180 workers are fatally injured at work. The impacts of work related fatalities, injuries and illnesses are devastating and affect workers, their families and the community. Reducing the incidence of work-related fatalities and serious injuries is a primary target under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023-2033 and is the core of the national policy work we do. All workers have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.

We have now completed our advice and our report is with WHS ministers for their consideration. The report will shape future discussions on actions to improve systems and support for workplace fatalities.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the families of deceased workers who took the time to share their experiences with us for this project.

“The report highlights the adverse and continued impact a fatality or serious injury has on a worker’s family. Following the death or serious injury of a loved one, families must navigate various regulatory and legal processes, which can increase the intensity and duration of their grief and their ability to adapt to life without their loved one. Work has and continues to be undertaken by SWA Members to address these needs, including a number of initiatives such as the improvement or creation of family support liaison officers to improve communication and contact with families. However, through our consultations it was clear there remain significant frustrations for families. This includes adequate bereavement health and financial support, improving transparency in investigation and prosecution processes including decision making and being kept informed of regulatory and legal processes. The report seeks to set out these issues from the families’ perspective and proposes what more could be done to better support families and improve the framework for investigating and prosecuting workplace deaths.”

Sinead McHugh, Director, WHS Framework