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May 3, 2004

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Record Northern Ireland fine for railway death

Berkshire-based Mowlem Railways, part of £2bn construction giant Mowlem, was fined a total of £75,000 at Belfast Crown Court on 10 March, the largest-ever fine in Northern Ireland for a breach of workplace health and safety legislation.

The court was told that on the night of 23 February 2002, Terence Lowry, a 39-year-old Doncaster railway worker, had been renewing track on the Belfast-to-Bangor railway line near Belfast City Airport.

Mr Lowry had been in the leading cab of a rail vehicle transporting scrap rail sections and panels, which was being driven from a cab at the rear. The train crashed at around 20mph into another rail vehicle – a ‘tamper’ – which had been parked on the same line without warning lights. The engineering supervisor had not been informed of the presence of the tamping vehicle.

Mr Lowry, who was employed by UK Fastrack, a wholly-owned subsidiary of John Mowlem, received fatal injuries; three other workers were also injured.

Mowlem Railways pleaded guilty to breaches of:

* article 4(1) of the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978 for failing to maintain a safe system of work;

* reg.5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (NI) 1999 for failing to ensure that work equipment was properly maintained; and

* reg.3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations (NI) 2000, for failing to ensure that a suitable risk assessment had been carried out.

Mowlem Railways was fined £65,000 on the first charge, and £5000 on each of the other two charges. No costs were sought.

In summing up, Judge Patrick Markey called the system of work a “shambles” and said that such failings “must be punished with a proper degree of severity”.

Will Edgar, the HSENI principal inspector who led the investigation of the case, commented to SHP: “This tragic accident could readily have been prevented if proper attention had been paid to procedures. There was a lack of clear understanding between the workers and local management as to the various work activities which were taking place that night.”

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