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February 19, 2010

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Council worker given suspended sentence for safety failings

A judge has slammed a local authority in Ireland for its disregard for health and safety following the death of a council worker.

Judge Gerard Griffin heard that Thomas O’Grady was part of a team of workers from Clare County Council that was carrying out road works on the main road between Tulla and Ennis.

On 17 May 2006, Mr O’Grady was operating a dumper truck to tip material over the edge of an embankment to an area about 1.5m lower than the road works. While he was tipping a load, the vehicle overturned and slid down the embankment. He was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the truck when it overturned. He suffered serious head injures and died in hospital two months later.

Judge Griffin said the incident was “foreseeable and preventable” and the council should have ensured that workers wore seat belts when driving vehicles. He added: “It is very clear to me that from top down, Clare County Council officials only paid lip-service to health and safety issues, and this is borne out of the grave deficiencies exposed.

“The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) official discovered that there had been no instruction to wear seat belts to dump-truck drivers, and no instruction not to tip material over an embankment.”

Clare County Council appeared in Ennis Circuit Criminal Court on 17 February and pleaded guilty to breaching s8(2)(a) and s19(1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (SHWWA) 2005, for failing to ensure the safety of employees and not identifying hazards, and reg. 9(1)(a) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations (SHWWER) 2001. The company was fined a total of €50,000.

The HSA also brought charges against Michael Scully, who was the project manager for the roadworks. Scully appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s19(1) of SHWWA 2005, and reg. 9(1)(a) of SHWWCR 2001. He was given a one-year suspended sentence for each offence, to run concurrently.

Speaking after sentencing, Health and Safety Authority chief executive, Martin O’Halloran, said: “This case highlights the consequences for persons who are responsible for directing workers and who do not ensure that health and safety risks are managed. 

“There are hazards associated with any work but those hazards can be managed by keeping health and safety high on the agenda in the workplace, and ensuring that prevention measures are in place.”

In a statement, the Council said: “We acknowledge the comments of the Circuit Court judge, including his criticisms, and note that the judge has accepted that appropriate measures have now been put in place to ensure compliance with relevant health and safety legislation.  

“Clare County Council wishes to express its sincere regret and deepest condolences to Mr. O’Grady’s family.”

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