Cork company to be sentenced  later this month in connection with fatal incident

Guilty pleas to charges under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act were entered on behalf of GP Wood Ltd.
Cork company to be sentenced  later this month in connection with fatal incident

A Garda car at the GP Wood sawmills at Main Street Enniskeane Co. Cork where a man died in a work place accident in 2019. Picture Denis Boyle

The company operating a timber yard in Enniskeane will be penalised on February 24 following evidence at the sentencing hearing today in respect of the fatal incident in February 2019 in which one of their most experienced employees lost his life.

Frances Murphy, Health and Safety Authority inspector, said they were notified on the day of the incident on February 26 2019 about the fatal incident which claimed the life of 53-year-old Pat Lacey who had worked with GP Wood Ltd for approximately 30 years.

Guilty pleas to charges under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act were entered on behalf of GP Wood Ltd.

Ms Murphy said that CCTV of the fatal incident showed the heavy machine – a front loader which loads logs at the mill – unfortunately colliding with the late Mr Lacey. She described GP Wood Ltd as fully cooperative with the HSA investigation.

Prosecution senior counsel Ray Boland asked the inspector, “Where did you find fault?” She replied, “Essentially in the area where large machinery was working, pedestrians were not segregated from that work area. The late Pat Lacey walked across an area where the machine was operating.” Ms Murphy agreed that there was a pedestrian area in being at the time of the incident but she said, “there was no signage or yellow hatch markings.” Mr Boland suggested, “Some people were using it (the walkway) and some were not?” Ms Murphy replied, “It was a bit ad hoc.” She said the company had not come to her attention in the HSA prior to the incident in February 2019.

From the family of the deceased, two sisters, Catriona and Carmel, and his brother, John, all prepared brief victim impact statements in which they stated that they missed their dear brother, Pat, every day and were deeply saddened by the fact that they would not get to share family experiences with him in the future.

Defence senior counsel Tom Creed said there has been a beefing up of the safety of the plant following the incident. He said that even before the fatal incident they were a company that had a lot of safety measures in place.

“The breach was in failure of enforcement and not disciplining people for not using the walkway and driving machines in the way they do… There was never a question of any financial profit or of a deliberate breach of safety with a view to making profit. This was an isolated incident with devastating consequences.

“They carried out significant works at the plant, all of it revolving around traffic management assessment (since the incident). €200,000 worth of infrastructural work has been carried out since and its goal was pedestrian safety and they continue to modify the site, the object being to separate the pedestrian and traffic flow.

“They have introduced several other new barriered walkways on the site at considerable expense,” Mr Creed said.

Compliance manager with GP Wood, Conor McSweeney confirmed that extensive work had taken place to improve safety and that it included floodlit barriered walkway that is separate from the work area for vehicles.

The pleas of guilty were entered on behalf of the company previously at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

The first counted stated that as an employer they failed to manage and conduct work activities, specifically the operation of a CAT938M front-loader vehicle, at or near the log storage yard area of the premises in such a way as at to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees, and in particular that they failed to ensure the segregation of pedestrians from the operational area of the vehicle.

The second charge was of failing to provide systems of work in similar circumstances that were planned, organised, performed, maintained, revised as appropriate so as to be safe and without risk to health.

The third count was of failure to ensure organisational measures were taken to prevent employees on foot coming within the area of operation of the self-propelled work equipment, specifically the front-loader vehicle.

Judge Helen Boyle said there was a lot to consider and she put sentencing back until February 24. To members of the late Mr Lacey’s family who were present, Judge Boyle said, “I want to extend my sincere condolences on your loss.”

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