Spain’s Civil Guard arrests businessmen who stripped uniform off employee to cover up workplace death

The victim, who had no protective clothing or training on how to operate heavy machinery, died while using a forklift

Jesús A. Cañas
Civil Guard officers in Chiclana de la Frontera.
Civil Guard officers in Chiclana de la Frontera.Román Ríos (EFE)

Four businessmen from the Spanish town of Chiclana de la Frontera in Cádiz province have been accused of stripping a dying employee of his uniform on the way to the hospital to avoid being held accountable for his death. The 42-year-old workman, who had no social security, no specific training to operate heavy machinery or any adequate protective clothing, died from injuries sustained while operating a forklift for the business. The men who removed his uniform have been accused of involuntary manslaughter.

The businessmen told doctors the employee had accidentally fallen

While the accident took place on July 17, 2018, it wasn’t until January of this year that the Civil Guard launched an investigation to clarify what happened. Given the employee arrived at the hospital without his uniform, the cause of death initially was not ruled to be the result of a workplace accident. This meant that his wife and two children were left “practically destitute,” since they only received the pension provided for deaths caused by common contingencies, the Civil Guard explained in a statement on Thursday.

But there was more to the story. On July 17, the workman was manning an electric forklift truck despite the fact that he had no training to operate heavy machinery or protective clothing, according to investigators. When the workman became seriously injured after being trapped in the machine’s lifting mechanism, the business manager and another employee put him into a private car and drove him to the La Longuera medical center in Chiclana de la Frontera.

On the way, “they stripped him of his work clothes, which had the company’s logo, so as to not raise suspicion and avoid being held responsible,” the Civil Guard explained. The two men told the doctors that “he had fallen accidentally” outside of work. The employee was transferred to the University Hospital of Puerto Real due to the seriousness of his injuries, where he died hours later.

The employee was manning an electric forklift truck despite the fact that he had no training to operate heavy machinery

Eight months after his death, the Civil Guard believes there is enough evidence to prove that “the death of the workman was due to a lack of training in operating the machinery he was using.” But this is just one or many irregularities the officers have found in the investigation, which is being conducted in collaboration with the work inspectorate, which the family of the victim contacted at the end of October.

By reconstructing the events of July 17, investigators have discovered that the employee was not given protective clothing and was not covered by social security. Indeed none of the company’s workers had social security, and the business also lacked safety and evacuation plans.

The four businessmen were arrested at the end of March and released soon after with charges. The judge is investigating them for involuntary manslaughter and violating workers’ rights. The men are also facing sanctions from the inspectorate of work and social security for the numerous irregularities found at the company, as well as a possible fine from the Chiclana planning department for other related infractions. Thanks to the police investigation, the victim’s wife and children are now receiving the widow and orphans pension provided for deaths caused by workplace accidents.

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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