Window cleaning contractor on trial in France

6th of December 2013
Window cleaning contractor on trial in France

A window cleaner died after falling off his ladder, resulting in a court case, writes Christian Bouzols.

An accident has been tried by the local criminal court of Saint-Malo following the death of a window cleaner who fell off his ladder.

Nobody saw or heard anything that day inside a superstore near Saint-Malo, in Brittany. While he was cleaning indoor windows Christian Aubert, 46, fell from his ladder and was found unconscious with severe head injuries. This model employee, who had 24 years’ experience, died four days later in hospital without having regained consciousness.

Eight months later his employer, the boss of a cleaning firm with 11 employees found himself before the court, charged with involuntary homicide and infringement of health and safety regulations.

Did Christian Aubert, on the day of his accident, have with him the equipment necessary for carrying out his tasks in accordance with the relevant safety regulation? This was the question the judges had to find an answer to while referring to the company’s internal rules and to the complex French legislation embodied in the Code du Travail.

As far as the company boss was concerned, the victim had been working within the law - he was working on a ladder that carried him to a height of two metres above the ground to clean a glazed surface to a maximum height of 3.6 metres.

“If one takes account of the man’s height and the fact he was working with arms stretched, he must have been at a height of about 1.25 metres above the ground,” argued the employer, who had distributed an internal note prohibiting his workers from climbing without protection to a height of over 1.60 metres.

But there were no witnesses and even the victim’s workmate, who was working next to him, was unable to confirm this assertion. On the other side of the witness stand, lawyers defending the dead employee referred to the work inspector’s report, who had investigated the accident and had concluded that acts of “negligence” had been involved and the employer had been responsible for not abiding by safety regulations.

“In this matter, lack of prudence has been involved, even though it may have been in good faith”, the public prosecutor decided, demanding a 3,500 euros fine.

Meanwhile the defendant has made new arrangements within his company, putting a wheeled scaffolding tower at the disposal of his workers, a device that may not be compulsory but which would have prevented the dramatic accident which struck Christian Aubert.

This case is a reminder that, as regards safety at work, there is no guarantee staff won’t be hit by an accident. This is particularly true of window cleaners, who often have to work at great heights. In this case, a man lost his life while working at less than two metres from the ground.

So far the ruling hasn’t been announced because the case is still being deliberated, but it is generally expected the employer will receive a sentence.


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