A shipping company whose breach of health and safety laws resulted in a fatal workplace accident in which an experienced welder died has been fined €850,000.
James Byrne was killed instantly on June 6, 2018 when a six metre steel column fell on top of him shortly after he had been using a blow torch to separate it from a larger metal structure.
An investigation was carried out by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which subsequently brought charges against the Doyle Shipping Group Unlimited with an address at Ocean Pier, Alexandra Road, Dublin 1.
The company pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to failing to manage work activities, specifically the dismantling of a steel hopper at the McKearns Yard, at Ocean Pier, in a way to ensure the safety and health of employees, as a consequence of which Mr Byrne suffered personal injury and died.
Passing sentence today, Judge Pauline Codd said the employer breached its obligation to ensure employees are not put at unnecessary hazard. She said the absence of planning the task meant that equipment was not utilized as it should have been.
Judge Codd said the case was aggravated by there being a fatality and the devastating effect of this loss on the victim's family, the risk being “obvious” and “significant”, the over reliance on one employee effectively left to assess risks himself and the failure to ensure equipment was utilized to secure the columns.
She placed the offence as being in the middle of the mid-range for offending of this nature. She said in the absence of mitigation the appropriate fine would be one of €1.5 million.
Judge Codd said the mitigating factors in this case were the guilty plea, the co-operation with the investigation, the good safety record and lack of previous convictions, the “significant expenditure” to ensure this does not happen again and the remorse shown by continuing to pay the victim's salary.
She said the appropriate sentence in this case was a fine of €850,000.
Speaking on behalf of the deceased's family outside the Criminal Courts of Justice building following the sentence being passed, Mr Byrne's partner Paula Murray said their lives would never be the same as “we feel there is a piece of us all missing”.
Ms Murray said her partner Mr Byrne was “a father, a partner, a brother, an uncle, a best friend and a mentor.” She said he had a smile that “would light up any room he went into”.
“We as a family will never get over the loss of James,” Ms Murray said. “He will never be replaced and he will always be in our hearts.”
Ms Murray described her partner as “highly skilled” and “a very-hard worker” who loved his job. She said she hoped nothing like this ever happened to any other family.
“I would never ever want any family to go through what we have gone through,” Ms Murray said.
At a previous sentencing hearing, the court heard that that steel hopper is a large metal construction larger than a typical house and used in the offloading of grain from ships. Mr Byrne had been given the job of dismantling the hopper in the shipping yard and had been doing this since April 2018.
HSA Inspector Frank Kearns told the court that Mr Byrne was an experienced welder and had dismantled a different hopper in Drogheda and later rebuilt it in Dublin.
On the day before the accident he had dismantled two 6m uprights support bars, or stanchions, from a 10m by 10m metal lattice. The following day he was working on a third stanchion and had to use a blow torch to cut through the part of the bar welded to the grid.
Insp Kearns said he assumed “he thought that would enable him to bring it down safely”. The court heard that as Mr Byrne then stood up and was walking towards his van when the column fell over and struck him.
The inspector told the court that the weight of the bar “couldn't be held by what remained of the frame”. A number of co-workers ran to the scene and tried to lift the bar but were unable to do so.
The HSA investigation found that the method used to dismantle the bars had made it necessary for Mr Byrne to work in “a danger zone”. Insp Kearns said that it would have required more than one man to carry out the work in a safe manner and the dismantling was later finished using three men.
Mr Byrne died as a result of catastrophic internal injuries, including injuries to his heart.
Shane Murphy SC, defending, told the court that the company was stunned by the fatality. He said Mr Byrne was a very highly valued and respected employee and regarded as a person of immense experience.
He said that a verbal plan was put in place for the dismantling of the hopper. He said there was “an element of mystery” as to how the column came to fall directly and with such “rapidity” on Mr Byrne.
He said that the company has since made extensive investments to ensure an accident never happens again, including purchasing a crane simulator to train staff in using cranes and initiating a system of weekly safety management meetings.
He said as a mark of the esteem the father of two was held in, the company continued to pay his salary and overtime to his partner.