Cerest wins right to fine OHS violators

The Occupational Health Referral Center (Cerest) of Jundiaí, SP, Brazil, achieved a historic victory in January 2024: the Supreme Federal Court (STF) ruled that the Center has legal authority to inspect and penalize companies that breach the rules and laws of ocupational health and safety. This decision, which was pending for 17 years in the courts, affects all Cerests in Brazil.

The case dates back to 2005, when the tile worker Mariano Torres died after falling into the elevator shaft of a building under construction. The Cerest of Jundiaí fined the responsible developer, SCO Participações e Empreendimentos Ltda., with a penalty equivalent to about R$ 350 thousand. The company argued that the legal competence for such penalty would be exclusively of the Union, through the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE).

The Superior Labor Court (TST) decided in favor of the Cerest’s competence to inspect and punish companies that violate the health and safety rules, based on the articles 154 and 159 of the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT), as well as the article 1 of the Federal Law nº 9.782/1999. However, the Attorney General’s Office (AGU) appealed the decision and sought the Supreme Court, which confirmed the TST’s verdict.

The STF’s minister Dias Tofolli, who was the rapporteur of the case, stated that “the matter is settled by the Supreme Federal Court, through the Summary n° 736, by establishing the understanding that it is up to the Labor Court to process and judge actions that have as cause of action the non-compliance with labor standards related to the safety, hygiene and health of workers”.

The decision of the STF, which is final, grants all Cerests in Brazil the permission to inspect and fine companies that do not comply with the health and safety standards, in order to protect the workers’ health and well-being.

The National Union of Labor Inspectors (SINAIT), however, repudiates the decision and says it has been following the case since the beginning. “Through a law firm, we are analyzing possible legal alternatives, among others, in order to reaffirm the violation of the Constitution that, according to art. 21, XXIV of the CF/88, assigns to the Union the exclusive competence to execute the labor inspection. The SINAIT remains working in order to safeguard the exclusive competence of the Labor Inspector”, says a note.