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The Prosecutor's Office demands a legal reform for victims of work accidents: It takes up to 9 years to collect compensation

The new head of the Occupational Safety and Health unit denounces that the victims "feel alone".

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The Prosecutor's Office demands a legal reform for victims of work accidents: It takes up to 9 years to collect compensation

The new head of the Occupational Safety and Health unit denounces that the victims "feel alone"

MADRID, 28 Abr. (EUROPA PRESS) -

The occupational accident rate skyrocketed in 2022, yielding a balance of 826 deaths and 10% more casualties. A reality that remains invisible in the eyes of society, according to the complaint of the new coordinator of the Occupational Safety and Health prosecutor, Ángel Muñoz, who calls for a legal reform to improve the lives of victims and their families, which may take up to 9 years to collect the compensation that corresponds to them.

"I don't know if there is any sociological reason that escapes us," says Muñoz, in an interview with Europa Press, when asked about the rise in work accidents, assuring that "nothing has changed" in terms of prevention that explain this "tremendous acceleration" of the occupational accident rate, especially taking into account that the historical series has been decreasing since 2006, coming to a collapse in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and on the eve of May 1, Muñoz, who took office last March but has spent more than a decade dedicated to combating workplace accidents, stresses that, whatever the reasons for this spike in accidents, behind the figures there are people with a long journey ahead of them until they get Justice.

"I think that everyone should listen to the story of a victim to find out what comes next (...) Obviously, you no longer see your loved one or they are seriously injured. And what comes next financially?", he questions, emphasizing that on many occasions the person who suffers the accident is the main source of income for the house.

Muñoz points out that, on average, the victims and their families take 5 years and 7 months to collect compensation, which when there are serious injuries can reach up to one million euros. In the most optimistic scenario, that time is reduced to 2 or 3 years, but in the worst it can be extended to 8 or 9 years. In all that time, "what does that family do? What do those children live on?", she says.

To remedy it, the prosecutor proposes a legal reform that allows the collection of compensation to be brought forward. One possibility, he launches, is that "the insurance compensation consortium could provisionally take charge until there is a sentence and then whoever has to pay pays." "You can solve a very important problem for a victim who can advance their compensation," he says.

It would also "help to reduce the deadlines" if courts and judicial police units specialized in workplace accidents were created, although he acknowledges that there is a problem of lack of means both in the Prosecutor's Office, which intervenes when the accident has already occurred, and in the Labor Inspection, which acts in the previous phase to avoid it.

"There are colleagues who have so much work that they are overwhelmed. We would like to be able to attend all the statements and all the investigation proceedings, but it is not possible because trials are being held. We lack personnel," he details in relation to the Public Ministry.

All in all, the new head of this specialized unit of the State Attorney General's Office demands a much more ambitious reform to update the 1995 occupational risk prevention law, which "was very good, it was a tremendous qualitative leap in Spain", but " It's a bit outdated."

Among other things, because "there are new risks." "There is a lot of talk about extending the retirement age but you have to see what risks it may have in certain sectors. For example, in construction. Is a person at 50 equally qualified to work at heights as at 65 or 66? That It will have to be evaluated," he says.

Muñoz also identifies as black points in preventive matters "the lack of training of workers" and of small businessmen responsible for mitigating occupational risks, as well as the absence of adequate procedures.

Regarding the latter, he recalls a case from "many years ago" in which "some pallets had to be loaded onto a truck." The pallets used to be the same size, so "the procedure was perfectly streamlined, but one day a larger pallet arrived, so the workers had to improvise." In the end, "a worker had to get inside the box to pull and ended up crushed," he says.

In any case, he emphasizes that a work accident does not occur for a single reason, but that there are "a lot of reasons that come together" and give rise to the accident, which is why he directly advocates "a comprehensive law for the defense of the safety and health of workers.

Muñoz mentions the fact that "in this country we do not have a culture of prevention" as the main problem. As an example, two work accidents that are repeated "systematically": the fall of workers who come to repair the roofs of industrial buildings and the amputations of hands and arms due to misuse of machinery. "If we know what is going to happen, why does it keep happening?" He questions.

He considers that the path outlined in road safety should be followed. "Today everyone has a culture of road safety, we will or will not pay attention, but everyone knows it (...) Children know that until the traffic light is green they will not cross," he points out. In his opinion, "this preventive culture is assimilated in schools", because the students will be the future employers and workers.

Thus, it goes a step further and directly calls for "a State pact for safety and health at work", in the image and likeness of what was done in its day with road safety and against gender violence.

Muñoz believes that it would serve to publicize the reality of the victims of labor accidents, who at the moment "are in hiding." "We began to contact them two years ago and they were completely scattered throughout the national territory, there were three or four associations, very small, almost individual, and today they are trying to unite to gain strength and, above all, to be heard" , exposes.

He maintains that "victims feel alone" because "we don't see them", "they lack legal advice" and "they don't know who to turn to" when the accident occurs. "I think they don't even know that there is a Prosecutor's Office that they can ask" and that "it is always open" for them, she assumes.

Among the victims, the prosecutor points out a particularly vulnerable group, people who suffer job insecurity and, in addition, are in Spain illegally.

"They are much more unprotected because they do not report" and they do not do so "because they are afraid of the administrative consequences that may come to them," so "there is a hidden bag of risk situations in preventive matters that does not surface," he warns.

From the Prosecutor's Office, Muñoz indicates that they have contacted "some union" dedicated to helping this type of worker to insist on the importance of denouncing. If they don't, "we can't do anything at all" because "if we don't know the situation, we can't act," he stresses.

Faced with all this, it has been proposed that, in this new stage, the Occupational Health and Safety Unit have "a proactive role". "In other words, that we can act before the crime occurs", to ensure that "this risk disappears or is as little as possible", and to generate the collective awareness that "any victim in an accident at work is a failure of society," he concludes.