The handling of industrial accidents is not only densely regulated with regard to occupational security but even more so concerning civil as well as environmental protection. Companies are faced with different legal bases, which often state a two-pronged legal obligation: whenever possible the companies must endeavour to prevent accidents. If, nevertheless, an accident occurs, they must be able to react adequately.
A particularly clear example of the above is the Federal Ordinance on Protection against Major Accidents (MAO). Said ordinance obligates the ca. 1200 companies subject to it in Switzerland to implement prevention and coping mechanisms in connection with extraordinary events within the company with considerable effects beyond the site. In particular, the companies must file with the competent authorities a report stating the provided precautionary measures for the prevention and limitation of hazardous incidents. Said report must be approved by the authorities. The challenge for companies subject to the MAO is to provide for all necessary security measures and to present them in a report which will be approved by the authorities.
In case of a hazardous incident, the company has coping obligations (which are usually implemented through Local Emergency Management). In this context, it is imperative that the company does not prematurely assume the sole responsibility for the incident. Not every incident is a hazardous incident, and the company’s is not the only behaviour which has to be taken into account. It must also always be examined if there was an authorisation issued by the authorities.
This is also true in the context of the water protection legislation: if there is an authorisation concerning the discharge of certain substances into the waste water treatment plant and was the discharge in question based on such authorisation, the company cannot be held liable for the effects of the discharge.
Therefore, industrial accidents call for preventive as well as reactive measures. It is imperative for a company to be acutely aware of the different legal bases which constitute each of the obligations and to effectively present its interests vis-à-vis the competent authorities.