When there is a death in the workplace
A death in the workplace is always investigated - to find out what happened and to determine ways to prevent the same thing from happening again.
On this page:
The following people are involved in an investigation:
Further information and services to contact:
- Making funeral arrangements
- Payment of superannuation benefits
- Claims for workers' compensation
- Compensation for the death of a worker
- Help in making application for workers' compensation
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) will begin an investigation as soon as possible after being notified of a death in the workplace. The purpose of the investigation is to find out what happened and take any appropriate action. Investigations can be complex and may take several months to complete.
A fatal incident does not always lead to a prosecution. WHSQ will make a decision about whether a prosecution should commence and considers a number of factors in making this decision.
There must be sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of a conviction. If a decision is made to prosecute, a court hearing will take place and this is usually heard in the Magistrates Court.
A person or company who is charged under workplace health and safety laws by WHSQ may enter a plea of guilty or defend the matter. If the plea is guilty, you may hear only a brief summary of what happened. If the plea is not guilty, the Magistrate will set a trial date which could be several months away. This hearing will often take longer than a day, but you will hear all the evidence in great detail.
The amount of information that WHSQ can give you or your solicitor before the trial is restricted.
If the person or company charged is convicted, the amount of the fine will be determined by the court.
The police are routinely called to a workplace death and they are responsible for informing family members of the death. They will inform the Coroner's office and prepare a report for the Coroner.
The Coroner's office requires that a deceased person must be formally identified in the presence of a police officer before the deceased can be released. This task is usually performed by immediate family members.
If you are unable to conduct the identification, police will need to seek alternative methods of identifying the deceased person, which may include personal identification by other family members, friends or work colleagues. If this is not possible, then police will use other options such as fingerprint, dental or DNA identification.
Due to the complexity of the investigations into workplace deaths, finalising the police and WHSQ reports for the Coroner may take some time. As part of the police investigation, they will consider the findings of the WHSQ investigation and, where appropriate, make recommendations to the Coroner. The police investigation will also consider whether there is evidence to commence criminal proceedings against any person.
Personal property found on the person who has died, will be returned to the next of kin or immediate family members as soon as possible after the police have spoken with you. In some instances, it may be necessary to retain certain items until the investigation is complete. Clothing is usually disposed of when the person who has died is admitted to the mortuary.
To assist the Coroner (who is also a Magistrate), a police officer will take statements and prepare a report. Police officers will ask questions about the person who has died and the circumstances of the death. Most of the information they will require will usually be obtained when they first speak with you. However there may be additional questions and statements to be signed so that the file can be sent to the Coroner.
The police and Workplace Heath and Safety Queensland inspectors may carry out independent investigations. WHSQ will conduct its own investigation to determine whether any workplace health and safety laws have been broken and the police will consider criminal law matters.
- Queensland Police Service Coronial Support Unit - telephone 07 3898 0305
- Contact your nearest police station - choose your region.
Coroners are situated throughout Queensland in Magistrates Courts. They are responsible for holding inquiries into the circumstances surrounding deaths that are reported to them. This inquiry may result in a Coronial Inquest.
The Coroner will order a post mortem, if required, to help him/her ascertain the cause and manner of death.
An inquest need not be held if the Coroner decides that the death was due to natural circumstances, or that no good purpose would be served by holding the inquest.
An inquest can be requested by a relative or person that the Coroner determines has sufficient interest in the death. This will be considered by the Coroner when deciding whether or not to hold an inquest. The next of kin will be notified of the reasons why an inquest will not be held.
The purpose of the Coronial Inquest is to establish as far as possible:
- the fact that a person has died
- the identity of the deceased person
- when, where and how the death occurred.
A Coronial Inquest is a court hearing where the Coroner considers information to help establish these matters. At a Coronial Inquest, the Coroner may call a number of witnesses to give evidence, including a workplace health and safety inspector.
While inquests are generally open to the public, in certain circumstances the Coroner can determine who will attend. It may be necessary for you or another member of your family to make a statement to the police about your knowledge of the circumstances of the death. If the inquest is set down for hearing, the Coroner will read your statement and determine whether it is necessary for you to attend to give further evidence at the hearing.
You will be notified by the Coroner if you are required to give evidence. If an inquest is to be held, the Coroner's office will keep you informed of the date and place of the hearing, which may take more than one day.
Any person who, in the opinion of the Coroner, has a sufficient interest in any aspect of the inquest may apply to the Coroner for permission to appear in person, or to be legally represented at the inquest. This person, or his or her legal representative, may examine and cross examine any witness on matters relevant to the inquest.
Coroner's office enquiries
- Office of the State Coroner - telephone 07 3239 6193.
You can contact your chosen funeral director at any time after the police have spoken with you. The Coroner, in most circumstances, will release the body of the person who has died to the funeral director, after the post-mortem examination and identification is confirmed.
Police are required to use the services of a specific funeral director, who holds a contract with the Government, to take the person who has died to a mortuary. However there is no obligation on the family to use the services of that funeral director. A list of funeral directors can be located in the Yellow Pages (non-Queensland Government link).
A viewing of the person who has died can be arranged through the funeral director at the funeral director's chapel.
There are certain guidelines set out in legislation that restrict who will be paid superannuation benefits, but in general, payment will be made to a dependant(s) which can be one or more of the following:
- a spouse (including de facto spouse)
- a child or children
- person(s) who were dependent at the time of death
- where none of the above exist, to the deceased's estate.
Where the benefit is paid to the deceased's estate, it will be distributed in accordance with the provisions of the deceased's Will.
In the event of there being no will, the deceased's estate will be administered in line with the Succession Act 1981 (PDF, 507 KB).
The Public Trustee has more information on wills and deceased estates.
Claims for fatalities can arise in the following ways:
- the worker dies immediately or soon after the injury
- the worker sustains a non-fatal injury, but dies of the injury some time later
- the worker sustains a non-fatal injury and later dies of complications from this injury
- the worker sustains a non-fatal injury and dies from a subsequent injury arising from this existing compensable injury.
How claims are assessed
Each application is assessed by the insurer against criteria set out in the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (PDF, 2.0 MB).
WorkCover Queensland, or the deceased worker's employer if they are self-insured, will consider:
- whether the person who suffered the fatal injury was a 'worker' as defined in the Act at the time of their injury
- whether the person suffered an 'injury' as defined in the Act
- whether their employment was a significant contributing factor to the fatal injury.
If the applicant is claiming for loss of dependency, the insurer will also consider whether the person making the application for compensation was dependent on the worker at the time of fatal injury and the extent of such dependency.
If the applicant is claiming for expenses the insurer will also consider whether they incurred expenses arising from the worker's fatal injury.
If the employer does not have a workers' compensation policy, anyone who falls under the definition of a 'worker' is still entitled to lodge a claim for workers' compensation and such claims are managed by WorkCover Queensland.
People who are not eligible for coverage under the Queensland Workers' Compensation scheme may take out personal injury insurance with a private insurance company. If this is the case, you will need to contact the individual insurance company to find out eligibility and entitlements relating to the specific policy taken out.
If a worker dies as a result of an injury, the insurer may pay:
- reasonable medical treatment and associated costs of the worker
- reasonable funeral expenses
- where a worker leaves dependants who were wholly or partly dependant on their earnings, the compensation available to an applicant is proportionate to their dependence on the deceased's earnings. Compensation may include the payment of a lump sum and/or periodic payments for dependant children
- where a worker leaves no dependants and is under the age of 21 years of age, the workers’ parents may seek compensation for the death of their child.
Making a claim
Due to the sensitive nature of the questions on the claim form, we recommend lodging a claim by calling 1300 362 128.
Family members, friends or your legal representative can make the contact on your behalf.
Certain people can apply and be paid compensation after the death of a worker including:
- the worker's legal representative may apply for compensation on behalf of the worker's dependants or other entitled persons, if expenses have been incurred
- the person who incurred the expenses (this means an employer, family member or friend who paid the expenses e.g. funeral expenses) may apply for reimbursement
- if the worker had dependants, the dependants may apply for compensation in their own right (e.g. a spouse who is totally dependant) or have an application made on their own behalf (e.g. a non-dependant grandparent may make an application on the worker's children's behalf).
If you would like help in filling out the application or if you would like to make sure you have understood the questions asked, please contact the insurer for assistance.
WorkCover Queensland can be contacted on 1300 362 128 (toll free). Customer service officers will be able help you.
You may also prefer to have someone help you complete this form such as a family member, union or legal representative or the employer.
Legal Aid Queensland - 1300 651 188 - provides access to legal representation and other legal services to a dependent, when a claim for workers' compensation is disputed and taken to court.
Queensland Law Society (non-Queensland Government link) - 07 3842 5842 - can help you find legal representation.
Funeral directors, counselling services
Workers' compensation insurance in Queensland is handled on behalf of all employers by WorkCover Queensland except where the employer has been granted a license to self-insure.
Only a small number of large employers, who meet specific requirements, are able to self-insure. In order to determine if the employer concerned is self-insured, an inquiry can be made either directly to the employer, or to the Workers' Compensation Regulator, which regulates the licensing of self-insurers.
Speak to funeral directors, family doctors or religious ministers for further help and advice. Other useful organisations are listed. Some of these organisations may charge a fee.
Community Health Centres (refer to the Yellow Pages (non-Queensland Government link) for your nearest centre)
- The Compassionate Friends Queensland Inc. - support organisation for bereaved parents
- Coronial Counselling Unit (John Tonge Centre) - support and information to families affected by the death of a loved one, where that death has required a coronial investigation
- Lifeline - 13 11 14 - 24 hour telephone counselling.