Accidents can happen in all walks of life but in industry they can be particularly significant, given the sheer level of risk involved and the possible financial implications of getting it wrong. Rarely does a week go by without news of an incident, be it an explosion at a powder-producing plant or a fire at a silo.
And the impact can be multi-faceted, involving not only human and financial costs, but also potential significantly longer-term implications for the companies involved in terms of production output, vendor and customer relationships and scheduling. The issue of safety has been impacting industrialists for decades, something recognised by the EU when it introduced its 1989 Framework Directive, designed to introduce measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of people at work.
It was wide-ranging, applying to all sectors of activity, both public and private, except for specific public service activities, such as the armed forces, the police or certain civil protection services. But, whatever the guidance, it remains the employer’s obligation to ensure the safety and health of their employers in every aspect related to work, obliging them to conduct quite detailed risk-assessments, implement protection measures and even assess worker capabilities which is why risk management plays such an important role in corporate governance these days.
Overall, practicing good industrial safety is a crucial part of ensuring a smooth-running operation that guarantees the best interests of workers, vendors, and customers. Industrial safety works hard to prevent workplace hazards, including chemical exposures, poor ergonomics, and physical hazards so that business can continue as normal with no interruption to production. On top of that, safety laws and regulations are continually evolving - and changing - and then there was the Covid outbreak that brought a new dimension to an already complicated arena, throwing up previously unheard-of issues. Berlin Lawyer Gordon Riedel will address such issues at ACHEMA Pulse in a congress talk entitled ‘Legal risks for plant manufacturers and producers in the event of major incidents’.
ACHEMA Inspire: Safety has increasingly emerged as the key issue at industrial conventions. How big an issue is it?
Gordon Riedel: It’s a very big topic: partly because of the considerable liability risks for producers and partly because corporate responsibility is increasingly understood as part of the corporate strategy. Manufacturers no longer see security merely as an additional service, some of which can be left to third parties.
The safety of a product is considered from the very beginning and becomes part of the product. This is why these aspects are becoming more and more visible at industrial conventions.
ACHEMA Inspire: Do you think there is one sector where this is most prevalent?
Gordon Riedel: Oil and Gas comes to mind. In addition to the risks described, within this industry there are also many environmental protection and public relations issues. But infrastructures and transportation are also sectors where security plays a crucial role.
ACHEMA Inspire: There have been many advances since, for example, the 1989 Framework Directive was adopted. How effective do you think that these improvements in technology been in reducing risk?
Gordon Riedel: There is no question that lives have been saved by the directive. This is also due to the many amendments that have kept the regulations current since their inception. Technological advances play a decisive role. Advances in digitisation are particularly crucial. Hazardous processes are now monitored simultaneously by people and computers. Thus, the human factor is reduced.
ACHEMA Inspire: What about the Covid effect? Surely, our awareness of the risk-related issues is now stronger than ever, given the year we’ve had.
Gordon Riedel: Yes. However, it remains to be seen how sustainable the Covid effect will be. I am not sure whether the prevention of infectious diseases will still play such a decisive role in everyday working life in two years’ time.
ACHEMA Inspire: If I were to ask you to give a scenario that brings home the importance of the issue in terms of liability what would that be?
Gordon Riedel: An accident can not only eat up the manufacturer’s profits from the project, poor insurance cover can even jeopardise the company as a whole. We had the case that after a major fire in an industrial plant, the insurance cover of the manufacturer was questionable. This could also have endangered the existence of the company.
ACHEMA Inspire: Do most problems arise as a result of unavoidable accidents or merely shortfalls in good practice, such as non-compliant staff?
Gordon Riedel: Here, I would distinguish. If a plant has been commissioned and safety protocols are in place, accidents are usually due to employees not following those protocols. This is different for the commissioning phase. Here, there are usually no safety procedures that are tailored to the individual plant. Therefore, accidents are most frequent in this phase and can sometimes occur even if the employees are not to blame.
ACHEMA Inspire: What advice would you give to a client who is wanting to formulate a safety strategy?
Gordon Riedel: Introduce corporate governance, risk and compliance. As an example: apply a sound quality management system for products with increased safety risk. If your work is risk-oriented, it may be advisable to have it audited by independent auditors. From a legal point of view, it should be verified that local regulations and practices are respected. In addition, it should be examined whether the risks are covered by insurance.
Mr. Riedel studied at the University of Tübingen and the Humboldt University in Berlin, where he focused on business law. He completed his legal clerkship in the district of the Higher Regional Court of Brandenburg.
During his administrative station he gained his first experience in private construction law for a public client. After completing the second state examination, Mr. Riedel was admitted to the bar in June 2018. He initially joined a renowned medium-sized firm that specialised in construction and real estate law. Since May 2019, he has strengthened the Berlin office of Leinemann Partner Rechtsanwälte as a lawyer. His main focus lies in the area of private construction and architectural law as well as real estate law. He is a member of the Berlin Bar Association.
Leinemann Partner itself is a fairly new company. It was founded on the very first day of the new millennium. Since then, what was a five-person start-up has evolved into one of the market leaders in its areas of specialty with a team of 90 lawyers working from six offices throughout the country.
| Original version published in ACHEMA Inspire, June 2021. |
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