Crimes against occupational safety and health

Crimes against occupational safety and health

There are specific criminal proceedings for events in which an employer fails to fulfil their occupational safety and health obligations. 

Most common offences are failure to arrange preconditions for occupational safety and health activities and lack of supervision

An employer or a representative of the employer may be held liable for a criminal offence related to occupational safety and health if they, either intentionally of negligently, 

  • violate occupational safety and health regulations
  • cause a deficiency or shortcoming that violates the occupational safety and health regulations
  • allows for a process that violates the occupational safety and health regulations to continue by
    • failing to supervise compliance with the occupational safety and health regulations 
    • not taking care of financial prerequisites, prerequisites for arranging the activities or other occupational safety and health prerequisites.

The majority of crimes against occupational safety and health are caused by negligence, which may be due to failure to arrange supervision or the prerequisites of occupational safety and health. 

Fulfilling the criteria of a crime against occupational safety and health does not require any consequences to occur, such as an employee becoming injured or even a near-miss. Instead, pure negligence is enough. What the responsible person has failed to carry out is studied in each case.

Division of occupational safety and health responsibility in different levels of management 

Responsibility over occupational safety and health is primarily born by the employer who commissions work in an employment relationship, a public service relationship or a comparable service relationship or who in reality uses the power of decision of an employer.

The person who has committed an action that violates their responsibilities or acted negligently is subject to criminal punishment for their illegal actions. Only person who have real power to remove a shortcoming are held criminally liable. 

In determining the responsible party, the following aspects are considered:

  • who or which representatives of the employer should have acted with more care
  • which party is deemed to have acted negligently.

Typical responsible parties in criminal offences related to occupational safety and health are the persons who oversee and supervise work instead of the employer. For example, the responsibility over the orientation and guidance of an employee may be divided between several supervisors: the senior management organises and finances the activities, the middle management plans and supervises the training and the immediate supervisors carry out the training.  

Senior management is responsible for securing the prerequisites of occupational safety and health

Lower management cannot be punished for any violations of occupational safety and health regulations caused the lack of financial and operational prerequisites for occupational safety and health activities. The senior management is responsible for organising occupational safety and health activities so that immediate supervisors can carry out the measures required by occupational safety and health regulations. 

  • Financial prerequisites include appropriations for acquiring, for example:
    • occupational safety and health equipment
    • safety training services
    • other matters related to occupational safety and health. 
  • Organisational prerequisites are decisions made to ensure the safety of work, such as decisions regarding the
    • number
    • selection method
    • and training of employees and supervisors. 

For example, failure to supervise employees adequately may be due to the fact that there are too many employees for each supervisor to supervise each workstation. 

  • Any negligence regarding other occupational safety and health prerequisites may also entail criminal liability.

In some cases, the person responsible for the neglected occupational safety and health obligation cannot be determined. The task may have not been assigned to anyone or the person cannot be determined due to ambiguities concerning tasks and mandates. In such cases, the supervisors in charge of confirming the division of responsibilities whose negligence has caused the inadequate delegation or ambiguity are held liable. 

However, a supervisor’s lack of awareness of being responsible for an individual task does not necessarily absolve them of their responsibility. If a supervisor is aware of their position in the organisation and their job description, they must find out what they require of them.

Corporate criminal liability complements personal liability in judgments

Judgments vary from fines to imprisonment. Furthermore, the party deemed liable can be sentenced to be liable for damages, and the financial benefits of the crime can be forfeited to the state. 

The employer company may also be sentenced to a corporate fine for a criminal offence against occupational safety and health. Corporate criminal liability complements personal liability, but it does render the investigation of the organisation’s internal responsibilities unnecessary. 

The mandates of the occupational safety and health inspectors and authorities, the criteria of criminal offences against occupational safety and health and the threshold for reporting a crime to the police are specified in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Finland’s monitoring report Toimivallan käyttö ja rikosasiasta ilmoittaminen poliisille (in Finnish).

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