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Penalties of up to 25 years in prison will apply to individuals convicted of industrial manslaughter, under laws passed in NSW Parliament.

The NSW Government says a new unit will be established within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to oversee the new offence.

A maximum penalty of $20 million will apply to body corporates, which the government says is the highest penalty in the country.

The offence will allow prosecutors to hold businesses or individuals responsible for the death of a person, due to gross levels of negligence in workplaces.

NSW becomes the last mainland Australian state to enact industrial manslaughter legislation.

The maximum penalty of 25 years under the new Industrial Manslaughter Bill is the same as the current maximum sentence for manslaughter under the NSW Crimes Act.

Work Health and Safety Minister Sophie Cotsis said the bill’s passage represented a historic moment for worker safety in NSW.

“These are not laws we ever want to use,” she said.

“We want them to act as a deterrent and a reminder that this government takes worker safety seriously.

“It is a fundamental right of every worker to go to work and come home safely to their loved ones,” said Cotsis.

In a statement issued by the minister’s office, the new law was also welcomed by Jacqueline Quinlivan, Co-Chair of the SafeWork Families and Injured Workers Support and Advisory Group.

“This has been such a long time coming, but we can now say we have the industrial manslaughter laws that are required,” she said.

In the Law Society’s submission to the government’s consultation on the issue in March, President Brett McGrath welcomed the move.

“We agree that the current penalty framework in New South Wales provides an inadequate deterrent to reducing the risk of workplace deaths,” he said at the time.

“Stronger penalties will send an important message that workplace safety is to be taken seriously and the failure to invest in, and manage, necessary precautions is unacceptable and should have significant consequences for those responsible.”

However, others were less supportive at the time of the consultation.

Master Builders NSW urged careful consideration of the change, saying industrial manslaughter was a duplication of law and there was no persuasive evidence NSW workplaces were less safe than those in other jurisdictions because of its absence.