An employee was seriously injured in an accident—the supervisor, managing director and company were fined. Failures to monitor compliance with occupational safety regulations led to the supervisor being fined. These are examples of the kinds of news headlines that are all too common these days.

Over a hundred judgments are issued each year for work safety offences. In addition to corporate fines imposed on companies, work safety offences can carry personal criminal liability for individual employees. Contrary to popular belief, liability may not be limited to the highest levels of the organisation, but can reach from upper management, through middle management all the way to the supervisor level. Once criminal proceedings start, management is often surprised by what the process means not just in terms of financial figures and corporate reputation, but also for the wellbeing of the work community and individual employees—particularly the suspects.

A work safety offence occurs when an employer or representative of an employer intentionally or negligently violates work safety regulations. Insufficient commitment to managing occupational safety matters in a company in general may also be punishable as an occupational safety offence. Under the Criminal Code of Finland, the employer or employer’s representative is deemed to be the person who is responsible for a particular work safety obligation at a given time. The assessment of the offence takes into account the position, duties and authority of the person in question as well as that person’s part in the development or continuation of a situation contrary to the law.

The concept of work safety is commonly linked to factories or construction sites. However, work safety is of key importance in all workplaces regardless of the field of business. Though there may not be many physical risks in the work environment, a safe mental work environment is a work safety perspective that has to be taken into account in every workplace.

What to do when the Police Call?

What should you do if the police call you in for questioning due to a suspected work safety offence? Go over your company’s strategy internally without delay and make sure you have a knowledgeable attorney to support you.

The most important task of an attorney in questioning is to ensure that the suspect does not contribute to their own incrimination. This protection against self-incrimination is one of the foundational principles of criminal law. The attorney has to take an active role both before and during questioning, as having an attorney who just sits passively through the interrogation will not ensure that this principle is realised.

It is worth preparing carefully for questioning with your attorney. One thing to think about is what to say to the police. Sometimes it best to go into a great deal of detail, while other times it is best to say as little as possible. The key in every case is to understand the core of protection against self-incrimination, which is to not bring up facts that are disadvantageous to you.

In questioning, the attorney makes sure that the protection against self-incrimination is realised in every form. As the only concrete product of questioning is the examination record, your attorney’s expertise will also be of great significance when reviewing the record. The record entries are the police officer’s summarised understanding and interpretation of what the questioned party said. The purpose of the review is to make sure that the entries correspond to the questioned party’s statements and that the message is correct both as to its contents and tone.

Once the preliminary investigation material is ready, the parties are usually entitled to issue a final statement. As the final statement can take a position on the legal grounds of the case, it is always best to let your attorney write it.

Make Work Safety a Priority

The police will begin a preliminary investigation if they have reason to suspect an offence has occurred. If the threshold for a preliminary investigation is exceeded, there is no avoiding being contacted by the police, and the criminal proceedings cannot be stopped at the request of the suspect or accused. This is why it is important for companies to diligently and continually make work safety a priority.

Upper management can seek to avoid criminal proceedings by creating sufficient prerequisites for work safety, in other words by building a proper work safety organisation and providing sufficient resources for work safety duties as well as for developing and monitoring work safety procedures. Middle and lower management for their part should make sure that work safety measures are implemented every day, for example, by supervising the work environment and safe working methods, by training personnel and by drafting instructions.