A Mayo construction company has been fined a total of €6,000 for breaches of health, safety and welfare at work legislation. The prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) against Charlestown-based Seamus Brett and Sons Ltd. arose after the death of an employee who was delivering shuttering panels on the site of an under-constructed slatted shed in Meelick, Swinford, on July 25, 2008. Initially it was believed the late Mr. Padraig Gavigan from Killasser, Swinford, had died from electrocution. However, it was later established his death was as a result of a heart attack.
HSA inspector Mr. Vincent Darcy told Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court he found a Scania truck under overhead lines, with the jib extended and touching the lines.
There was no protection mechanism or bunting to prevent people coming directly under the lines, which were 2.6 metres from one corner of the shed.
The defendant company, which has no previous convictions and cooperated fully with the authority, is mainly involved in the construction of agricultural sheds.
Under cross-examination it was put to Mr. Darcy that Seamus Brett and Sons Ltd. were engaged initially to construct an underground tank, when the lines were at such a height as to not cause any concern.
However, they were later approached by the farmer, John McHugh, as he was let down by a block layer and so asked them to do the shed walls. The company agreed to do the gables in mass concrete using shutters, while McHugh was to retain someone to block the other walls.
Since putting in the tank, the infrastructure had been built up on site and Seamus Brett assumed all safety aspects were taken care of.
Another factor was that since he was there first the ground level at the back of the shed had been raised significantly, putting the ground in closer proximity to the wires.
While doing the tank he had discussed the wires with McHugh and understood he would do what was necessary with the ESB and it was reasonable for him to assume that work was done.
Mr. Darcy, asked if he would have prosecuted if he had randomly called to the site and saw the works and wires, said prosecution would be a last resort. A prohibition notice would have issued and works stopped.
In his direct evidence, Seamus Brett described the late Mr. Gavigan, a family friend, as 'one of the best'. Brett has been in the building business for 42 years.
Judge Anthony Hunt said the tragic aspect was the death of Mr. Gavigan, and he extended sympathy to his family and friends.
It was now accepted his death arose through a heart attack in the course of his work. It seemed reasonable that the attack caused him to inadvertently operate the controls of the hi-ab crane, giving at first the understandable impression this was a case of death by electrocution.
The judge imposed fines of €3,000 on the company on each of two counts: that it failed to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of its employees and, secondly, did fail to take steps to prevent an electrocution in that it failed to ensure overhead power lines were redirected, or that the current was cut off, or to put up signs.