The late Tony Bergin
A fine of €175,000 has been handed down to a company who failed to ensure the safety and welfare of an employee which resulted in the death of a father-of-three.
The company, McKeon Stone Ltd, admitted that employees at the limestone quarry in Threecastles carried out work without wearing a harness and this practice resulted in the death of Anthony Bergin.
A HSA inspector, Lillian O’Neill, said that on January 5, 2015 a rock had been cut out and a failed block fell from the quarry face.
She explained that rectangular and square blocks were cut out. A series of holes are drilled and a wire saw cuts the stone vertically.
“The aim is to get a rectangular block out. To get it out they put an expansion bag in that forces the block out inch by inch,” she said.
On the date in question employees were on their first day back after the Christmas holidays and were working at the quarry.
The court heard how ‘the purpose was to try and free the wire that was lodged within the rock’.
“They knocked the first block out and they did that successfully. Then they tried to do the second block. Anthony Bergin came out to remove the bottom strap. The stone fell and Mr Bergin fell. He was not wearing a harness as there were none available on site in Threecastles and it was not everyday practice. If he was wearing the harness I think the outcome would have been different. On that day no one was wearing a harness.”
Ms O’Neill told the judge that it ‘was common practice to wear harnesses’ in other quarries and described the work as ‘high risk’.
Defence barrister, David Bulbulbia told the court that Mr Bergin’s death ‘should not have happened’ and that ‘harnesses should have been in place’.
“There was no commercial reason why such a simple system should not have been in place.
“This is a small family-run business. Tony Bergin was working there for 17 years and he was a valuable and popular member of staff. There was a palpable sense of shock following the incident,” said Mr Bulbulia adding that the company had co-operated fully during the investigation.
Director of McKeon Stone Ltd, Niall Kavanagh said in court that ‘the use of a harness would have prevented this accident’ and added that it was his intention going forward to promote awareness around the issue.
Irene Bergin, the wife of the deceased, read out her victim personal statement in court. She spoke about the devastating impact that Tony’s death has had on her and her three children.
“It was the worst day of our lives. There are no words to explain the impact,” she said adding that her children ‘had lost the Dad they adored’ and that she had lost her ‘wonderful, kind and caring husband and also my best friend’.
“Due to the reckless actions of McKeon Stone we have lost an amazing man.”
Mr Kavanagh apologised on behalf of the company for Tony’s death.
“He was the number two man in the quarry. He was very experienced and sharp and was very pleasant and a very positive presence.”
“What happened during seventy years of quarrying had not happened before. The risk was not adequately covered. We should have had harnesses. If we had the fall could have been arrested and we would not have had a fatality.
“Not a day goes by that we would not think of Tony. We try and honour his memory.
“We genuinely offer our heartfelt and sincere apologies.
“We accept our responsibility for not having adequate safety measures,” he added.
A fall and arrest system is now in place at the quarry.
Judge Patrick Meghen remarked that it was ‘a particularly tragic case’. He added that apart from the death of Mr Bergin there was ‘no serious incident in 47 years’ at the quarry.
“I accept that it was not done out of design to maximise profits.
“Ordinarily I would impose a fine of €300,000. I have to take into consideration the mitigating factors including the genuine remorse shown and that the directors are going to raise awareness.
“It is a local company with 45 people employed there. It has weathered bad times and it is still carrying a substantial debt and while acknowledging the seriousness of the offence there is no point in putting 45 people out of work either. However it has to have an impact on the company,” he said before imposing a fined of €175,000, which he directed could be paid at a rate of €25,000 over seven years.
He commended Ms Bergin on her victim impact statement.
“I found her statement very moving and she gave it in a very dignified way. He was obviously a very lovely man. I hope you can cherish his memory for yourself and your children.”
The company was convicted and fined for a breach under Section 77 of The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 for failing to manage and conduct work actively, namely supply harnesses and fall protection measures.