With fatal accident figures falling in recent years, 2009 brought the lowest number of fatal workplace accidents since modern records began in 1991. There have been a number of recent prosecutions against employers and individuals who have been found to have breached health and safety regulations in the workplace resulting in the deaths of employees.
The first of these arose from the death of an employee at Galmoy Mines in Kilkenny. In January 2010, Kilkenny Circuit Court imposed a fine of €100,000 on Galmoy Mines as a result of serious breaches of health and safety legislation. This case involved the death of an employee who had sustained injuries after falling from a height while working underground at the mine.
The second case involved the death of an employee of Clare County Council who died whilst operating a council vehicle. Ennis Circuit Court imposed a twelve month suspended sentence on a former manager of the Council who had retired since the incident. In addition, fines totalling €50,000 were handed down to the Council as a result of a serious breach of health and safety legislation which resulted in the death of a man when the site dumper vehicle that he was operating overturned. The judge commented that it was the Council’s gross negligence and dereliction of duty that had led directly to the death. He commented that whilst a €50,000 fine on the Council may be seen as unduly lenient, he did not feel it fair that rate-payers should suffer for the dereliction of duty by the Council.
Following the death of a worker in Dublin, DAF Sales Ltd. was fined €75,000 in May 2010 after failing to comply with health and safety provisions. The employee had fallen while placing stock on shelves at a height of about five metres. Judge Nolan said that the company had failed to provide proper safe equipment or to identify risks and hazards. The judge believed that the fine took the company’s parlous financial position into account, yet it also had to deter others from taking health and safety risks.
In November 2010, a Dublin Circuit Court judge held that a site manager and employer of the deceased worker had ‘failed abysmally’ to implement health and safety legislation. Imposing a €52,000 fine on M&P Construction Ltd, the judge remarked that the tragedy had been an ‘accident waiting to happen’. In fining the site manager €5,000, the judge held that he had failed in his duty to ensure worker safety on the site. Judge McDonagh noted that the company’s turnover had dropped dramatically since the demise of the Celtic Tiger, and that a larger fine would have imperilled the future of the company and its 35 employees.
In June 2011 Mullingar Circuit Court imposed a fine of €50,000 on Technical Engineering and Tooling Services Ltd and a one-year suspended sentence on three directors of the company following the death of an employee. The worker had been killed after being struck by an unguarded part of the machine he was working at. The judge fined the company €50,000, as well as making a judgment for costs against it. Each of the directors was given a one-year suspended sentence. Judge Kennedy believed that the company’s failure to heed the warning of a previous health and safety incident was a factor to be considered in sentencing.
In July 2011, GT Crampton Ltd, a construction company, was fined €100,000 in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for failing to stop work on a site in Finglas during extreme weather conditions which resulted in the death of a carpenter in January 2007. Edward Fowler, was struck on the head by scaffolding which had been blown loose by high winds and he died three days later. GT Crampton Ltd failed to close part of the site despite the high winds and the severe weather warning issued by Met Eireann. Judge Nolan said that GT Crampton Ltd had made a serious misjudgement particularly as they were aware of the severe weather warning and had experienced winds of lower speeds blowing scaffolding boards lose previously. The Court ordered that the company pay a fine of €100,000 and the State’s legal costs. GT Crampton has six previous convictions for breaches of health and safety law.
A landmark corporate manslaughter conviction in the UK was handed down in May 2010 in a case involving the death of a geologist while working for Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings. A trench had collapsed on the geologist while he had been working alone. The Crown Prosecution Service argued that the company had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect and the jury found that its system of work in digging pits was wholly and unnecessarily dangerous. The company was fined £385,000 and found to be guilty of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, 2007. This case will set an important precedent in the UK for similar convictions, however Ireland does not yet have equivalent corporate manslaughter legislation