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French owner sentenced for involuntary manslaughter in vat death

A French proprietor this week received a six-month suspended sentence, and a €5,000 fine, for the involuntary manslaughter of an employee who died cleaning wine vats on a Bordeaux estate.

A jury found Christophe Guillot, owner of Domaines Jean Guillot, negligent in his duty of care towards his employee, Olivier David, who died in November 2002 of carbon monoxide poisoning after cleaning an underground vat at Domaine de Bouteilley in Bordeaux. He was not wearing the required safety harness, and neither was the vat adequately ventilated.

At the initial tribunal last May, Guillot denied responsibility, claiming that David should have kept a naked flame burning while he was cleaning, as is usual practice, to monitor carbon monoxide levels. He also said the David refused to wear the safety harness, despite it being offered to him.

The magistrate, however, made it plain that it was the employer’s responsibility to ensure any employee follows health and safety guidelines, and wears adequate safety equipment at all times.

He said, ‘The presence of a naked flame, while certainly often used in wine making, hardly provides a sufficient guarantee against accidents.’

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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