Testing firm guilty of breaching health and safety laws relating to school bus

A vehicle testing firm has been found guilty of breaching health and safety laws in relation to the testing of a school bus which was later involved in a fatal crash.

The bus went out of control on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly on Apr 4, 2006, after the rear drive axle came off. Schoolboy Michael White, 15, died as a result of “catastrophic injuries”.

A bolt missing from the right side of the rear suspension system led to fatigue fractures, ultimately resulting in both sides of the suspension failing and the rear drive axle separating from the 1989 Mercedes bus.

David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of vehicle testing firm O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four charges of breaching health and safety laws when carrying out an official test on the bus between Aug 5 and 6, 2005. The charges, under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, alleged the firm had failed to ensure that persons were not exposed to risks to their safety or health as a result of the way the test was carried out.

After a 23-day trial the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the first count which outlined a failure to note the modified rear suspension system.

Mr O’Reilly said he did not think the rear suspension system was modified. This airbag-based spring system was retrofitted to the bus in the UK in 1991 and was the subject of a safety recall notice in 1991.

The company was found not guilty of failing to verify this modified suspension as safe. It was also acquitted of failing to note a missing bolt and failing to take account of a fracture in the chassis.

Judge Margaret Heneghan adjourned the case of O’Reilly Commercial Ltd to next month when a sentence date will be fixed.


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