HSA not entitled to investigate Dundalk accident, court rules

The High Court has ruled that the Health and Safety Authority is not entitled to conduct an investigation into a road traffic accident in Co Donegal which resulted in the death of a 22-year-old woman.

Today, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, granted Donegal County Council an order preventing the HSA holding an investigation or prosecuting the local authority or its staff in respect of a single-vehicle accident which claimed the life of Sinead McDaid.

The Judge, who expressed his sympathy to Sinead's family, said he was satisfied that the place where the accident occurred was "not a place of work" at the relevant time and therefore the HSA lacked the jurisdiction to either investigate or bring a prosecution against anyone over the matter.

Ms McDaid, from Carndonagh, died after her car skidded on the road at Dunross, between Culdaff and Malin, on the Inishowen peninsula about 8pm on June 12, 2001.

Ms McDaid's family were unhappy with initial probes into her death have conducted a long campaign to have the matter fully investigated.

On the date of the accident, resurfacing work had started on the site at 8am and had finished by 11am. The road was fully opened to traffic users by 3pm that afternoon and the accident occurred at 8pm.

In judicial review proceedings, the Council claimed the location of the accident was not a place of work when the accident occurred and that the HSA "exceeded its jurisdiction" in deciding in late 2006 to conduct the investigation.

The HSA claimed it was entitled, under the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, to investigate on grounds including the site of the accident remained a place of work until the resurfacing job had been fully completed.

However, in his judgment, Mr Justice Kearns said that the scene of the accident did not constitute a place of work within the meaning of the 2005 Act. The "primary and dominant purpose of the Act," he said, "was all about worker safety".

While the provision of 2005 Act might apply to a person who is not a worker but injured at a place of work, the Judge held it was not permissible to extend the parameters of the Act beyond those clearly provided by the legislation.

The Judge said that it seemed to him that a very close degree of proximity must be established from the time that workers leave a worksite that would justify the HSA having any jurisdiction.

The stretch of roadway, he ruled, "ceased to be a place of work when the workers completed the works at 11am on the day of the accident" after they had applied a macadam surface and covering it with chippings.

Certain signage, the Judge said, was put in place until it was considered safe to open the road to traffic at 3pm that afternoon.

The Judge attached no significance to the fact that workmen returned the day after the accident and swept the road of chippings and rearranged some signage. That, he said, did not mean there had been an unbroken process of roadworks going on since 8am the previous morning.

The Judge also stated that there maybe instances where workers have left roads in a less than safe state, however he was not in a position to make such conclusions in this case.

The Judge added that this was a most tragic and unfortunate accident and expressed his sympathy to Sinead's parents. Their anxiety to have somebody or person "brought to account" has been the matter of a lengthy campaign with representations made to politicians and the gardaí.

The Judge added that it was an undeniable fact of this case that a huge impetus for every on going investigation into the accident had emanated from them.

However he said that the issue before him was to decide if the roadway in question was a place of work at the relevant time.

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