Criminal law relating to occupational safety and health / Criminal law relating to technology / Defense in the event of industrial accidents

Injury at work criminal law

Authorities and companies are legally obligated in many respects to ensure that occupational accidents do not occur, i.e. the injury or killing of people, but also fires and explosions, a damage to the environment (air, soil, water), etc. The legislator itself has established corresponding obligations for plant managers and company officers in numerous laws, ordinances and other regulations, non-compliance with which is not only punishable by (substantial) fines but also, among other things, by massive threats of punishment (imprisonment).

In the event of an industrial accident, there is often a suspicion of negligent bodily injury (Section 229 of the German Criminal Code) or negligent homicide (Section 222 of the German Criminal Code) of one or more people.

If such an industrial accident has occurred, the defense and/or criminal representation of the company concerned should in any case be undertaken by specialized lawyers specializing in criminal law, who not only have the necessary expertise in this particular field of activity (see below), but also many years of experience in occupational safety criminal law. This is because criminal investigation proceedings in the area of occupational safety and health criminal law have little in common with the usual criminal proceedings.

Special features of occupational safety criminal law: questions of technology and company organization.

Almost every proceeding in criminal occupational safety law (mostly because of industrial accidents, but often also in the case of damage to the environment) is characterized by two essential areas that must be recognized and mastered by the defense, namely technical (detailed) questions and questions concerning business organization:

In public authorities and in companies, there is always partial cooperation. In the first instance, overall responsibility, also in the criminal law sense, is usually borne by the board of directors or management or the head of the authority, and in practice also frequently by authorized signatories, plant managers, department heads and so on. An initially assumed overall responsibility of the company management can and in many cases must be distributed to subordinate hierarchy levels and delegated. With regard to delegation, but also to the organization of the company as a whole, however, numerous - mostly legal - requirements must be observed. If the existing legal obligation for proper delegation and company organization is violated, public prosecutors often assume "organizational culpability", for example, if subordinate employees are not instructed or not fully instructed in their duties and tasks, are not sufficiently supervised, need for improvement is not implemented, etc. In addition, there are numerous obligations to train subordinate employees accordingly, completely, regularly and according to the latest state of science and technology.

In this multiple interaction of the most diverse people at the most diverse hierarchical levels, errors or negligence often occur that lead to an industrial accident. This is the starting point for public prosecutors. It is imperative that the defense lawyer working in the field of occupational safety and health criminal law be familiar with the numerous legal issues (and the lived practice) of company organizations.

Numerous legal sources for obligations under occupational safety law.

In the practice of the relevant investigative proceedings, for example in the case of industrial accidents (criminal law relating to occupational safety and health), a filler of various legal matters must be mastered by the defense counsel. These include, for example:

Special accident prevention regulations (UVVs) of various professional associations,
industrial safety regulations (BetrSichVO),
as well as other numerous obligations from various special laws and regulations.

A frequent mistake in practice: The appointment and obligation of a safety and health protection coordinator (SiGeKo) does not in itself lead to the exoneration of the persons responsible for the company, which we can confirm through defense mandates in the area of occupational health and safety criminal law and from the prosecutorial practice of various federal states.

What is also often ignored in practice: With the help of so-called dynamic references to criminal law norms, the legislator always takes the "current state of science and technology" as a basis. If, for example, an industrial accident has occurred, it is of little help that a particular machine was approved years ago if the company has failed to adapt regulations, training and operating procedures (safety precautions) to the current state of science and technology (machine safety). Company managers must therefore ensure that the company always complies with accident prevention measures in the most up-to-date form.

H2W's criminal law attorneys have successfully defended numerous corporate officers as well as companies themselves, both in the preliminary stages and in the course of investigative proceedings. Particularly in defending and representing companies in business accident cases, we are field-tested and have the necessary specialized expertise.

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Technical criminal law

Apart from industrial accidents in which people are injured or killed, the legislature has created numerous criminal offenses as criminal law relating to technology in the narrower sense and has also provided for considerable threats of punishment (prison sentences) in this area. The following are only listed as examples

  • criminal product liability (for example, by putting dangerous products on the market)
  • .

  • Damage to the environment and nature (for example, groundwater contamination, leakage of hazardous substances and immissions, improper handling of waste (waste law))
  • criminal violations of the Medical Devices Act (MPG), such as when placing on the market, etc.
  • certain fire or explosion events
  • .

Special features in criminal law relating to technology

Criminal investigations in the field of technical criminal law are characterized by the fact that various specialized authorities are involved in addition to the public prosecutor's office. Furthermore, professional associations are often involved and have an effect on the criminal investigation proceedings. Specialized authorities also insist on the disclosure of case-relevant information at an early stage during ongoing criminal proceedings (where the defendants have a right to remain silent), which can become quite unpleasant for the defendants.

In addition, criminal proceedings in the area of technical criminal law often involve obtaining various expert opinions and sometimes even downright "expert battles".

When our specialist lawyers for criminal law in technical criminal law are mandated as defense counsel or company representatives, we regularly review expert opinions rendered and - if necessary - take action against them. If necessary, we help our clients to find renowned technical experts as expert witnesses and to integrate them into the defense strategy.

From our point of view, the special subject of technical criminal law and industrial accidents requires specialized and experienced attorneys for criminal law who, in addition to criminal procedural law, must not only be well-versed in this special subject, but must also have corresponding trial experience in such investigative proceedings. Please do not hesitate to contact us. Translated with (free version)