How Would You Sentence an Employer Who Failed to Provide a Safe Workplace?

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEDT) Tuesday 13 February 2024

Marking the first major review in 20 years, the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council has today published two reports about the sentencing of occupational health and safety (OHS) offences. The first is a consultation paper seeking community views on areas for possible reform, and the second is a deep dive into court data about how OHS offences are sentenced in Victoria.

The Victorian Government has asked the Council to consider, among other things, whether sentencing outcomes for OHS offences align with community expectations.

To answer this question, over the next few months the Council wants to hear from health and safety experts, employer and employee representatives, and the broader Victorian community about ways to improve how OHS offences are sentenced. These views will inform the Council’s advice and recommendations in response to terms of reference from the Victorian Government.

To identify potential areas for reform, the Council consulted with almost 30 organisations and individuals, and reviewed court data on 16 years of sentencing outcomes since the inception of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 2005.

Issues raised in the consultation paper include why we punish companies and people who fail to protect the health and safety of others, the extent to which bigger companies should receive bigger fines, and the role of victims and their families in the sentencing process. And given that around $2.3 million in fines for OHS offences go unpaid every year, we will also be exploring possible ways to improve fine payment rates.

The Council will also be seeking community views about whether fine amounts for OHS offences sufficiently incentivise workplace safety, and whether sentencing options other than fines – such as health and safety undertakings, or adverse publicity orders – should be used more.

Key Findings from the Data

To help contexutalise these issues, the statistical report provides sentencing data to June 2021 and fine payment data to June 2023. Some of the key findings include:

  • 1,197 OHS cases were sentenced from 2005 to 2021, about 75 cases each year.
  • The most common OHS offence is an employer breaching their health and safety duties to employees and other persons (66% of offences).
  • OHS cases most often involve the construction (36%) and manufacturing (30%) industries.
  • Where details were available, OHS cases most often involved an injury (64%). In 11% of cases someone was killed, and in the remaining 25% of cases, no one was injured or killed.
  • Of the 1,197 cases, almost 90% were sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court. Almost all the remaining cases were sentenced in the County Court, with just one case sentenced in the Supreme Court.
  • Fines were the most common sentencing outcome for OHS offences (87%), especially for companies (90%).
  • Fines for employer breaches of health and safety duties ranged from $600 to $1 million and averaged $69,000, with fines higher in cases involving a workplace fatality.
  • 67% of fines imposed in the 4.5 years to June 2021 were fully paid. However, around $10.3 million in fines went unpaid during the same period, around $2.3 million a year. The most significant predictor of a fine going unpaid is the offender being a deregistered company.

Consultation Events and Submissions

Throughout February and March, the Council will be hosting community conversations across regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne. At those sessions, participants will hear about a real-life OHS case and get the chance to share their views about how they would sentence the case. The Council encourages anyone interested in attending one of these events to register via our website.

Individuals can also share their views by completing a short survey on the Engage Victoria website, or making a submission to

The Council will deliver its final report with recommendations to the Attorney-General and the Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC by 31 December 2024.

Quotes Attributable to Sentencing Advisory Council CEO, Dr Paul McGorrery

‘Sentencing outcomes for health and safety offences have a critical role to play in ensuring workplaces are as safe as possible for all Victorians. Fines for unsafe work practices should not be seen as just the cost of doing business, especially if many fines are going unpaid.’

‘This is a topic that affects everyone in Victoria, and we look forward to hearing the community’s views in the coming months.’

Find out more about the project at

About the Sentencing Advisory Council: The Council is an independent statutory body established in 2004. It has a number of legislative functions, including conducting research on sentencing, consulting on sentencing matters, publishing sentencing statistics, and advising the Attorney-General on sentencing matters.