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July 9, 2009

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Designer acquitted of failure to design safe place of work

A firm of consulting engineers and its senior project engineer have

been cleared of failing to design a safe system of work by not

designing an adequate support system for landings and staircases.

The prosecution of Dublin company Hanley Pepper and its engineer, Michael Jackson, initially taken by the Health and Safety Authority and subsequently by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), arose out of a fatal incident at a construction site in Ringsend, Dublin, on 12 December 2002.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that construction worker Thomas O’Neill died from crush injuries after a concrete staircase fell on him. Two other men suffered cuts and broken bones from which they have since recovered.

On the day of the collapse, while the stairs were being put into the stair core, it was noticed that some of the bolts had slipped out of the staircase wall. The contractors took out some of the stairs and started work again without contacting Hanley Pepper.
Both Hanley Pepper and Mr Jackson pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to design a safe place of work under s11 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (SHWW) Act 1989 – rather than under the current 2005 Act, which imposes slightly different duties on designers, since the incident pre-dated the most recent Act’s enactment.

Both parties were acquitted on 17 June by Judge Martin Nolan, who ruled that the building in question had not been constructed on the basis of the design that had originally been supplied by Hanley Pepper. He said that it was not possible to have a hypothetical offence where the design of the place of work at issue is not, in fact, built. In this case, the original design had never been built, but something entirely different had been constructed by the contractors.

G & T Crampton, the main contractor on the job, conceded that it had redesigned the job without reference back to Hanley Pepper. It had pleaded guilty to and been fined 50,000 euros at a sentencing hearing in May 2007 for breaching s7(1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (SHWW) Act 1989, by failing to ensure the safety of non-employees by directing them to return to work in the stairwell.

Reade Engineering, the Dublin sub-contractor responsible for installing the bolts and angles to secure the stairs, had also pleaded guilty and been fined 15,000 euros under the same charge in October 2007.

At the June 2009 trial, contracts manager Tero Oksanen of G & T Crampton said that, as site agent, he had allowed bolts different from those specified by Hanley Pepper to be used. On the day of the incident he had not informed Hanley Pepper that these bolts had slipped away from the staircase walls.

Costs have been awarded against the DPP, to the defendants, on the basis that, given the evidence available to the prosecution and the actions of the main contractor and sub-contractor in changing the design, the prosecutions against both the consulting engineering company and their employee should simply never have been brought.

The amount of the costs will not be made public.


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