A 49-YEAR-OLD man was killed in a workplace accident at Irish Distillers in Dungourney three years ago and yesterday the company was convicted and fined €40,000 when a plea of guilty was entered to two health and safety breaches.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said at Cork Circuit Criminal Court while there was a fatality in the background to the case it was not something he could deal with because it was not encompassed by the charges.
The prosecution followed an investigation into a fatal accident where Dominic Knowles was killed. The prosecution brought three charges against Irish Distillers but it withdrew the only charge that referred directly to the late Mr Knowles yesterday, entering a nolle prosequi to that charge.
Irish Distillers Limited pleaded guilty to two charges remaining on the indictment, namely failing to identify a hazard, specifically the staging of whiskey casks by forklift operations outside the warehouse at Dungourney on March 12, 2018, and failing to identify the associated risks in a written assessment, and secondly, failing to ensure appropriate traffic rules were drawn up and followed when a forklift was moving around a work area.
Judge Ó Donnabháin fined the company €30,000 on the first charge and €10,000 on the second and ordered them to pay the €3,200 costs of the Health and Safety Authority.
Inspector Dermot O’Callaghan of the HSA said the authority went to the Dungourney warehouse premises in March three years ago following a fatality there.
A forklift driver was bringing two casks to where other casks had been set down previously when he stood up in the driver’s seat to look over the load he was carrying and saw two legs to his left. It emerged that the late Mr Knowles had been caught between the forklift and the previously staged casks, Inspector O’Callaghan said.
He said they had safety statements for works in the warehouse but none specifically addressing the issue that arose in the accident which occurred.
Ronan Kennedy senior counsel for Irish Distillers said that leaving aside this tragic accident that brought the company before the court they had a very strong safety management programme. Insp. O’Callaghan agreed.
Mr Kennedy said the company had a suite of documents related to safety at the warehouse premises but none that specifically referenced the issue that arose on the day of the fatal accident.
Senior executives with Irish Distillers, Paul Wickham and Tom Keane, were at Cork Circuit Criminal Court for yesterday’s case as Mr Kennedy expressed sincere and profound regret and said that the deceased was deeply missed by all those working for Irish Distillers who were shocked by what occurred.
Mr Kennedy said new arrangements had been put in place since the accident, including cameras on forklifts and designated walkways.
The company’s senior counsel said Irish Distillers was dedicated to its local community and he detailed €400,000 in charitable donations made by the company between January 2017 and October 2020 in Midleton and Dungourney.
Imelda Kelly prosecution barrister said the deceased man’s widow was present in court and had prepared a victim impact statement.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said he could not read the victim impact statement because the charges to which the company pleaded guilty were technical charges that did not refer to causing the death of Mr Knowles. He said that to do so would be outside his powers as it was not encompassed in any of the charges.
“There is a loss in the background which I am conscious of but — given the plea — unable to deal with,” he said.
Referring to the offences to which Irish Distillers Ltd did plead guilty, the judge described them as a significant breach that had belatedly been put right.