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December 15, 2009

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Death of Polish worker a wake-up call to construction bosses

Irish company directors received a stark reminder of the importance of prioritising health and safety following the prosecution of a construction-firm owner and his two sons over the death of a Polish worker.

Sean Doyle and the Roscommon-based companies run by his sons John and Noel were fined a total of €350,000 at Roscommon Circuit Court on 11 December, after the judge heard how Czeslav Malinowski died in a fall from height in April 2006.

Mr Malinowski, 49, was employed by Owencrest Properties Ltd, directed by John Doyle, and was working on a construction project in Roscommon town’s main street, which was being undertaken by Roscommon Building Company Ltd, directed by Noel Doyle.

On the day of the incident, he was cleaning the façade of a three-storey building using a power washer and standing on a ‘man-cage’ work platform, which was raised to a height of between six and ten feet. During the operation the cage disconnected from the platform and Mr Malinowski, who was not wearing a safety harness, fell on to the street below, hitting his head on the kerb and sustaining fatal injuries.

The man-cage platform was resting on the forks of a teleporter machine, which was being operated under the control of Sean Doyle — director of a number of companies, including Owencrest Properties and Roscommon Building Company. The court heard that the platform was either inadequately secured, or not secured at all to the teleporter, and was not a proprietary cage designed for such use. In addition, Sean Doyle was not certified to operate the vehicle.

The Irish Times newspaper reported Health and Safety Authority inspector Kevin Broderick as saying to the court that Sean Doyle had accidentally struck a lever with his elbow, which caused the raised platform and its occupant to fall. Mr Broderick added that the teleporter had no tilt-lock mechanism — a legal requirement — to prevent the platform from moving.

Owencrest Properties Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching sections 8(2)(c)(iii) and 19(1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 by failing to manage and conduct work activities in such a way as to ensure the safety of Mr Malinowski, and failing to carry out an assessment of the risks to this employee. The company was fined €100,000.

Roscommon Building Company Ltd was fined €200,000 after pleading guilty to breaching sections 12 and 15(3) of the same Act by failing to ensure that non-employees were not exposed to risks as a result of the work being undertaken, and failing to ensure that equipment provided for that work was safe and without risk to health.

Sean Doyle pleaded guilty to two counts under section 80 of the same Act in that, as a director of both the above companies, he authorised, or consented to their offences. He was fined €50,000 by Judge Michael White, who accepted that the Doyles’ group of companies had a previously good health and safety record, and acknowledged their distress over the death of Mr Malinowski.

Commenting after the sentences, the chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority, Martin O’Halloran, said the case should act as a warning to all those in charge of places of work. He added: “The law clearly states that directors and senior managers have responsibilities to safeguard the safety, health and welfare of their employees. The consequences for failing to do so were tragic in this case.

”My sympathies are with the wife of Mr Malinowski. I understand that nothing can ever make up for her loss but I hope that today’s sentencing can give her some closure and act as a deterrent to other directors and senior managers who are not taking their legal and moral duties seriously.”  

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