French company hit with fines, prison, for poisoning workers

The Court of Appeal in Douai, northern France, has upheld the decision to fine a power generation equipment manufacturer that exposed its workers to harmful asbestos dust. The ruling is a first in France, as the company was also ordered to pay damages to all employees exposed to the risk, regardless of whether they had been directly affected or not.

From 1998 to 2001, workers at Alstom Power Boilers’ site in Lily-lez-Lannoy were exposed to asbestos dust in what the court described as a “deliberate violation” of the firm’s health and safety obligations. The list of Alstom’s failures included not providing sufficient information for workers regarding protection from the harmful substance.

As a result of sustained exposure, seven of the company’s employees died, and 30 per cent of the workforce developed some form of asbestos-related disease. On Thursday, 6 March, the French Court of Appeal ruled to uphold Alstom Power Boilers’ €75000 fine – the maximum penalty available. However, former plant manager Bernard Gomez, had his suspended prison sentence reduced – from nine months in the original judgement at the court of Lille in September 2006 to just three months. His €3000 fine was upheld at appeal.

In December last year, civil proceedings saw Alstom ordered to pay €10,000 in damages to each one of the 150 workers who were employed on the site during the three-year period.

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