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Criminal penalties debated Down Under

As the debate in the U.S. heats up over the need for tougher penalties for workplace safety violations leading to death on the job, a similar story is unfolding in Australia.

Legislation is expected to be introduced in Victoria's state government in response to calls for tougher criminal sanctions by a family who lost their son in a mining incident, according to the newspaper The Age.

Marion and Bruce Stevens, whose son Patrick, 19, was crushed to death by a dump truck in a mine three years ago, said that although their son's death was "an accident that occurred with no malice," introducing industrial manslaughter specifically would "make employers think twice," according to the article.

Current maximum fines for workplace deaths are $100,000 for a company and $20,000 for an individual in the summary jurisdiction, while higher courts can fine employers a maximum of $250,000 and $50,000, respectively.

(In the U.S., it is a misdemeanor to cause the death of a worker by willfully violating safety laws, with a maximum six-month sentence if found guilty. The maximum criminal fine is $500,000.)

In Australia, an independent review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1985, chaired by a Melbourne barrister, is due out this month.

One proposal would make employers potentially liable for maximum penalties of 25 years' jail or a $5 million fine for workplace deaths.

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