Cavan construction firm faces €6m fine

A Cavan-based construction firm currently working on London’s 2012 Olympic Stadium could face a €6m fine for unsafe building site conduct which left an employee paralysed from the neck down.

P Elliott and Company Ltd recruited a banksman who let a crane lift metal cages weighing a third of a ton over workmen’s heads.

Inspector Padraig Early of the Health and Safety Authority revealed that one particular cage, which the banksman had attached to the crane with two ties instead of four, disintegrated mid air and came to ground “like arrows” on top of Slovakian construction worker Mr Marian Smutney (31).

Mr Early told Mr Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that the injured man was left paralysed from the neck down after suffering a massive head injury and three fractures to his spine.

Glynn McKenna, Environmental Health and Safety Manager with P Elliott and Company, pleaded guilty on its behalf at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to conducting unsafe lifting operations at the Clarehall, Malahide Road building site on October 24, 2006.

The family-run company, which was established in 1942 and has an address at Century Business Park, Dublin Road, Cavan, also pleaded guilty to failing to guard openings on a building site roof.

It has no previous convictions.

The company’s CEO, Mr David Mackey, expressed his “deepest regret” for what happened, stated that his firm places “utmost emphasis” on health and safety measures and has been recognised and awarded by the National Industry Safety Organisation.

Mr Mackey told Mr Liam Gerard Reidy SC, defending, that the company has also made a specific DVD about safe lifting procedures since the 2006 accident.

He said Mr Smutney and his family received €3m compensation and the company, which he described as “working to the limit of its overdraft”, now pays an extra €1.2m insurance per year.

He said ironically the safety manager, who had previously been on site at all times, was attending a company health and safety training day in Croke Park when the accident happened.

Mr Mackey reiterated his regret on behalf of the Elliott family and the board of directors “with sincerity and not with cringing hands.”

Mr Early told Mr Hayes that the injured man had worked for a P Elliott and Company Ltd subcontractor and did not have time to dodge the falling cage.

Mr Early said the banksman, who had been recruited from an agency several days before, had attached a previous five or six cages to the crane using four ties but had used only two on the one that fell apart.

The banksman later told investigators that he had felt little difference between using two ties and four to lift the cage.

Mr Early confirmed that this banksman was well-qualified with more than 10 years experience on national and international building sites.

The inspector said a slash tie and a hairpin tie had been used to secure the cage but the slash tie didn’t operate effectively to return a rotational force.

He said it is against the code of practice to lift over ground staff and he would have stopped operations even with four ties securing the cage.

He added that a health and safety consultant compiled a special report after the accident and found there were no plastic covers, or “mushrooms”, on 8 inch steel bars on the ground to prevent impaling, no markers on excavation holes in the ground, no adequate covering on holes in a roof, no edge guards to stop metal cages falling off the roof and gas cylinders were lying loose near roof holes.

He said there had been scaffolding around the roof to prevent falls but this was removed several days before the accident.

Mr Mackey told Mr Reidy that the company had operated for 69 years without a serious accident or fatality.

He said it was company policy to do background checks on all new recruits and provide safety videos in six different languages.

Mr Mackey said the past two years had been difficult for the company, which employs 170 mainly Cavan based staff, and the accounts will show an overall loss of €30m when they are published next month.

He told the judge that P Elliott is working off its €5m overdraft, which it has never had to do before, but continues to trade and pay back loans on commercial property acquired during the boom years.

He said though the company is “worth very little” it continues with a 170 person workforce, some of whom have been in the company for 45 years.

Mr Reidy submitted to Judge Frank O’Donnell that his client had managed to avoid this “devastating tragedy” for over 60 years, that it has already been punished with its raised insurance premium but that it continues to employ in an economically sensitive time.

He asked the judge to be lenient with the fine, which can be up to €3m on each charge.

Judge O’Donnell adjourned the matter to later month to consider the evidence.

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