A 33-year-old Coachford man was killed just over three years ago when a trench he was working in collapsed on top of him and today two men pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches and were fined.
Health and Safety inspector, Frances Murphy, testified today at Cork Circuit Criminal Court that on September 28, 2017 drainage works were being carried out by the farmer, Pat Kelleher, excavator driver, John O’Mahony, and the deceased, Denis Cullinane.
“They were digging a trench and laying drainage pipes as the land was getting flooded. They were digging 4.6 metres deep, one metre wide using the excavator. They were then going into the trench to lay the trench pipes.
“As they were laying the pipes, Denis Cullinane was nearest the excavator when the trench collapsed and engulfed Mr Cullinane.
“There were no support systems in place (for the trench), no safety provisions in place,” Ms Murphy said.
Siobhán Lankford defence senior counsel said John O’Mahony was 75 then and is 78 now and has not worked since. He owned the excavator.
Donal O’Sullivan, defence barrister said on behalf of Pat Kelleher, 50, “He was very shocked by this. It is my understanding he was traumatised.
"It was not a case of sending someone in to do something he would not do himself. He was in the trench as well.” Both defendants expressed again their deep remorse and apologies to the Cullinane family.
The judge referred to the victim impact statement by the Cullinane family as short but impactful - “We as a family understand it was an accident but if one other family can be saved the trauma and hurt by this accident we feel at least some else’s family might not have to go through this again.”
Judge Ó Donnabháin said, “It is appalling that two experienced men – one a Hi-Mac driver and the other an experienced farmer – should excavate a trench on loose ground without trenching the trench. There is nothing new in this. There is nothing that would require major experience. A few planks of wood (supported) in the hole would have kept it open.
“It does not take a lot to understand that – four and a half metres deep of loose soil. It was inevitably going to collapse. The neglect here is very fundamental.
“It could have been easily avoided with the slightest care. And the unfortunate Denis Cullinane lost his life.
“Their remorse is genuine. All three men were from the same local community. They were known to each other.
“I take the point that Mr Kelleher was hands-on and he did not hand it over to someone else to do it but it is a very fundamental breach by him which caused a man to lose his life. It could have been easily foreseen and avoided.”
The judge imposed a €10,000 fine on Pat Kelleher and a fine of €1,000 on John O’Mahony.
Pat Kelleher of Roovesmore, Coachford, pleaded guilty to a charge that on September 28, 2017 at Rooves More, Coachford, he did fail to provide a system of work during drainage works including the laying of pipes in an excavation and failed to prevent the collapse of sides of excavation on Denis Cullinane by way of battering or stepping the sides or the installation of an earthwork support system.
John O’Mahony of 1 O’Mahony Place, Clondrohid, Macroom, pleaded to a similar charge that as a self-employed contractor failed to ensured that individuals were not exposed to risks to their safety, health and welfare.