Support for harsher penalties over workplace deaths

After her son died on a NSW worksite, Patrizia Cassaniti was shocked to learn no one would be held criminally culpable.

She is not alone, according to a survey which found most voters similarly surprised that NSW remains the only mainland state in Australia not to have an industrial manslaughter offence.

Legislation was announced in October and is expected to enter the state's parliament this week, bringing with it increased penalties.

The law will come too late for 18-year-old Christopher Cassaniti, crushed under collapsed scaffolding days after his birthday in April 2019.

People would expect laws to protect workers and their families, and hold someone accountable if a worker died on the job, his mother told AAP.

"But then when you find out that that isn't the case, it's quite shocking," Ms Cassaniti said.

Trish and Rob Cassaniti, the parents of Christopher Cassaniti
Rob and Trish Cassaniti lost their son Christopher when construction scaffolding fell on top of him. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

A worker has died in the state at an average rate of one per week since 2013, according to Unions NSW analysis of Safe Work Australia data.

Polling conducted for the peak body found strong support for new laws and increased penalties in a survey of more than 2000 voters in May.

Parliament should listen to community concerns and pass legislation allowing jail terms up to 25 years and fines up to $20 million, secretary Mark Morey said.

"The people of NSW want corporations and CEOs held accountable for workplace deaths," he said.

More than two-thirds of respondents supported the introduction of the industrial manslaughter offence, while less than 10 per cent opposed it, with the rest undecided.

Support was slightly higher in the regions, and among Greens voters.

The Greens plan to work with the government to make NSW penalties harsher, work health and safety spokeswoman Abigail Boyd told AAP.

"If we're to keep workers across our state safe from harm, we need to impose criminal penalties on those responsible for unsafe workplaces," she said.

The coalition is awaiting the legislation.

Most respondents in the Unions NSW survey were surprised industrial manslaughter was not already outlawed.

"The fact more than three-quarters of voters were unaware industrial manslaughter is not currently a specific crime in NSW highlights the urgent need for change," Mr Morey said.

Some 59 per cent of respondents were comfortable the proposed penalties were appropriate, even after learning they would be higher than any other state.

A tribute to Christopher Cassaniti at the family home
Christopher Cassaniti's parents were shocked that no criminal charges could be laid over his death. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Penalties need to increase in order to threaten a detrimental impact on companies and key decision-makers to improve their safety culture, Ms Cassaniti said.

"It's very rare that you hear of a workplace incident, and that people have been prosecuted and gone to jail."

In her son's case, the scaffolding company was eventually fined $2 million, and the construction company $900,000.

Punishment and accountability for workplace deaths should be treated like road fatalities, Ms Cassaniti told AAP.

"If you get behind a vehicle, you know you're responsible ... for your life, the life of everyone in your car, and the life of anyone that is on the roads," she said.

But companies had been allowed to insure themselves against fines and disregard safety protocols.

"Because the penalties aren't there, the consequences aren't there ... money and time have always superseded safety," Ms Cassaniti said.