A construction company and its owner who admitted failings in the death of a worker who fell from a defective scaffold have been fined €40,000 and €5,000 respectively.
Andezej Buraczewski fell to his death from the fourth level of a scaffolding platform which was later found to be “unsafe” and “not fit for purpose”, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard today.
The construction company owner on the site – Colin Wendel – had sought permission from the architect to have that particular level built by a scaffolding company for a price of €500, but the architect told him to have his own workers build it instead.
A subsequent report on the scaffolding found there were a number of defects, it wasn't in compliance with regulations and “nobody should have been standing on it,” Inspector Frank Kerins from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) told the court.
Colin Wendel (38), with an address at Patrician Villas, Stillorgan, pleaded guilty to one count of failing to ensure his employees were not exposed to risk at Highfield Road, Rathgar, Dublin on October 24th, 2016 – specifically that the scaffold was unstable and improvised guard rails fell apart. He has no previous convictions.
A guilty plea was entered on behalf of his company, Colin Wendel Development Ltd, to one count of failing to ensure its employees were not exposed to risk, leading to a person suffering an injury and dying.
In a victim impact statement read out by counsel in court, Mr Buraczewski's widow said her husband was a “wise, hardworking and scrupulous man” and a devoted father to his son and stepson.
She described how he decorated every apartment they lived in and how they had been hoping to buy their own home. She said her “whole world fell apart” the day he died.
“Nothing will ever be the same as it used to be,” she said. “I lost my ground and my sense of stability. Time passes but it doesn't heal the pain.”
Insp Kerins told Sinead McMullan BL, prosecuting, that Wendel was carrying out renovation works on the Rathgar property and arranged a number of sub-contractors to carry out various jobs. A three-story scaffolding structure was put in place by a specialist scaffolding company.
When it became apparent that a fourth level would need to be added to the scaffold, Wendel got a quote of €500 from the same scaffolding company to complete the work. When Wendel approached the architect, Bryan O'Rourke, who also owned the property in question, Mr O'Rourke told Wendel to use his own employees instead.
On the day in question, Mr Buraczewski and two other workers from a roofing company that had been contracted by Wendel Construction, started work on the house. Shortly after they arrived, Mr Buraczewski fell from the fourth level platform. He died instantly.
Insp Kerins said the scaffold platform was resting on a scaffold tube and as a result, the boards were higher than standard and the guard rails were too low as a result.
Ronan Kennedy SC, defending, said that when Wendel was instructed to use his own workers to construct the scaffold he was “confident the work could be done safely.”
In the days leading up to Mr Buraczewski's death, both Wendel and his father stood on the fourth level platform and neither of them noticed anything was amiss.
Mr Kennedy said Mr Buraczewski was discovered wearing just one boot – the other was later found on the roof of an adjacent apartment building, which was higher than the scaffold platform. His laces were open and the laces were shortened, the court heard.
Mr Kennedy said it was also possible the scaffold had been tampered with, possibly in order to bring up materials. He added that he didn't want to speculate.
The court heard Wendel had €20,000 of his personal money to give Ms Buraczewski as a token of his remorse.
In a statement read out by Mr Kennedy, Wendel said he wanted to apologise to Ms Buraczewski. “The grief I feel for you and your family is real and I will take it to my grave,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, I am truly and deeply sorry for what occurred.”
Passing sentence, Judge Martin Nolan said what had happened was a “pure accident”. “I think the weakness in this scaffold wasn't obvious to all parties who used it.”
He accepted Wendel was genuinely remorseful and had been badly affected by the accident. “I think Mr Wendel is a moral man with a good conscience,” he said.
He ordered Wendel to pay a €5000 fine on top of the €20,000 for Ms Buraczewski and he ordered the company to pay €40,000. He extended his condolences to Mr Buraczewski's family.