Deadly Fall of the Electrician, Acquitted the Employer

One of the employees of a Lazio company in Italy, with the qualification of electrician maintainer, is sent by his employer to install spotlights on a shed’s surface at a height of about 6 meters.

Before starting the task, the electrician carries out an inspection to see the characteristics of the work and, having climbed onto the elevator basket, allows himself to be carried by the mechanical arm up to the roof of the shed, whose frame is covered by thin sheets of asbestos cement.

He wants to figure out where to proceed with the installation, i.e. whether to use only the basket or whether it is necessary to position himself on the roof. Each assignment has elements of risk, moreover it is an electrician specialized in industrial plants, but in this case it will be essential to operate under rather uncomfortable conditions, because the control unit and the cables that he will use the next day are placed in almost inaccessible places.

The next day, the electrician takes the equipment he deems necessary and goes to the shed. He climbs with the elevator on the roof to place the wires but, for completely fortuitous circumstances, after a few minutes the slabs of eternit that cover the roof break through and he falls ruinously to the ground.

From sentencing to acquittal - manslaughter

Before the first instance Court, the electrician's employers had been charged with workplace health and safety crimes for non-compliance with the rules on safety at work. The Court of Appeal of Rome, brought before the civil party, reformed the judgment of the Court of Rieti, seconded section of Poggio Mirteto, condemning the defendants to compensation for damages.

The Defendants are at least unconditionally acquitted by the Court of Cassazione.

The role of the worker is debated

The Defendants, respectively sole administrator of the company under which the electrician works and head of the company's workplace prevention and protection service, are prosecuted by the Public Prosecutor's Office for the crime referred to in Art. 113 and 590 paragraphs 1 and 3 c.p. and the crime referred to in 113 c.p., 70 and 77 lit.b) D.P.R. 164/56.

They are charged with failing to prepare the necessary safety precautions before having the roofing plan of the shed used as a work top by the electrician, causing the worker’s fall and the consequent injuries.

The defendants complain that the cause of the accident is solely due to the negligent, reckless, and abnormal behaviour of the victim.

In particular, they carried out the inspection before entrusting the task to the worker and gave the necessary provisions and laid down the necessary safety measures.

The worker must behave prudently

For the Court of Cassation that reviews the case, the Court of Appeal would have misrepresented the facts inferred in the investigation, by mistakenly considering that the worker should have been climbing on the roof in order to the spotlights being correctly positioned.

The focal point is whether or not there was a need to get on the roof and whether or not the victim had discussed this with the head of the workplace prevention and protection service.

However, witnesses were consistent in stating that the spotlights had to be installed in the front of the shed and that both the power outlet and the cables to whom they should have been connected were present on the front of the shed, easily accessible by the elevator with no need to climb onto the roof to complete the task.

The technician then noted that the forklift basket complied with safety standards in relation to the work to be carried out and that an expert operator was made available by the employer for the basket to be maneuvered.

In addition, it has been proved that the electrician had phoned the owner after carrying out the inspection, exposing him with the work to be done and requesting the necessary equipment. The owner told him to operate only in the less impervious parts of the shed and to postpone the other works.

Therefore, no responsibility can be blamed on the two defendants if the experienced electrician who was entrusted with a job to be carried out safely through a elevator, decides by his own to climb onto the roof and walk on thin slabs of eternit that can not withstand the weight of a man for more than a few seconds.

According to the Court of Cassation, the employer’s supply of suitable safety devices and his supervision on their correct use, must be paired with workers’ cooperation entailing no unpredictable and reckless behavior.

No guilt for defendants

Therefore, considering the absence of guilt of the defendants, the Cassation annulled without delay the judgment of the Court of Appeal and has them acquitted as the fact does not constitute a crime, also annulling all the consequent statutes regarding the compensation of the damage against the civil party.

The change of course in the assessment of the worker's behaviour

The tendency of jurisprudence to consider the employer as the only responsible for the accidents suffered by workers has changed.

At first, the employer's obligation to monitor the conduct of workers in order to eliminate all the risks associated not only with the functionality of safety instruments but also with their correct use was very rigorously assessed.

At present, a major role is acknowledged to the responsibility of the worker, who must shape his conduct in a spirit of cooperation with the employer in the prevention of accidents.

In practice, the worker cannot rely solely on the existence of tools to prevent accidents, but must also be predictable, prudent and diligent.

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