In a first for vineyard workers, a winery has been found guilty of failing to protect its workers from the harmful health effects of pesticides.
Château Monestier La Tour, in southwest France's Bergerac region, was convicted of "inexcusable misconduct" for failing to protect an employee against exposure to pesticides used in the vineyard, after court action dragged on for almost three years.
The worker, identified as Mrs S., was employed in the estate's vineyard but was hospitalized in August 2007, suffering characteristic symptoms of pesticide poisoning including headaches, skin irritation and vomiting. The incident was originally deemed to be a simple workplace accident, but Mrs S. decided to take her claim of misconduct against the château to court.
In 2011, the employer culpable of failing to "take precautions to prevent the accident" allowing Mrs. S. to work in the vineyard less than 24 hours after the pesticide was sprayed.
The judgment stated that was due to "the inexcusable misconduct of the employer."
The château lodged an appeal, which it has now withdrawn. No-one from the château was available for comment.
"This is a first for agricultural [workers]," Stéphane Cottineau, the prosecution lawyer, said.
While workplace accidents caused by pesticide use are often recognized, explained Cottineau, it has never before been "the inexcusable negligence of the employer."
"This is going to allow workers to be compensated decently," he said, adding that he hoped this judgment would set a precedent.
"This will force employers to be much more vigilant and cautious and take into account the rules they have to follow," he declared.
Générations Futures, an association that aims to increase awareness of the dangers of pesticide use, issued a statement welcoming the judgment. "Mrs S. is the epitome of all agricultural workers who, through their work, find themselves exposed to toxic products with often-serious consequences," it said.