Safety and health in the workplace
Crimes against occupational safety and health
Crimes against occupational safety and health
An employer or an employer’s representative may be found guilty of an occupational safety and health offence 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 (neglect their occupational safety and health obligations), resulting in a situation that is in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
An employer or an employer’s representative may cause a situation that is in violation of the occupational safety and health regulations or allow it to continue if
- they fail to ensure that everyone at the workplace complies with the occupational safety and health regulations
- they fail to take care of the financial or occupational safety and health requirements related to the organisation of activities, such as ensuring that supervisors have sufficient resources and that their occupational safety and health duties are clearly defined.
Being found guilty of an occupational safety and health offence does not require a consequence, such as an employee getting injured or even having a close call; the only criterion is negligence related to occupational safety and health. When a situation is assessed, such matters as the failure of the responsible employer or their representative to oversee the conditions and working methods at the workplace are considered.
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
- 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 Guideline on occupational safety and health enforcement and the use of authority (pdf).