A new Labour Party bill would allow companies to be charged with corporate manslaughter, following the Pike River mine tragedy.
Labour MP Andrew Little's Crimes Amendment Bill, unveiled on Thursday, would create a crime that would apply when workplace deaths result from failures at the board and senior management levels.
The penalties in the bill include:
- A fine on a company or organisation up to $10 million
- Imprisonment of up to 10 years for any director or senior manager shown to be responsible for the corporate failure
- A publicity order requiring the offending company or organisation to publicise the conviction, including in its annual report.
Mr Little says the bill will "fill a long-standing gap in health and safety laws", brought into the spotlight following the recent release of the royal commission report into the deaths of 29 men in Pike River Mine in November 2010.
"The royal commission report on Pike River shows that a gross failure at the board level of a company can be catastrophic and deadly," Mr Little said.
"The track record of prosecutions under the Health and Safety Act is that they tend to focus on lower level failures because getting the evidence and securing the conviction are easier, but personal responsibility for fatalities goes unchecked."
He says his own experience as a union lawyer and former head of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) is that police are reluctant to get heavily involved in workplace deaths because the Department of Labour is seen as having exclusive jurisdiction.
"In matters as serious as a death on the job the police should be involved and this will give them jurisdiction to do so."