A coroner has issued a warning to farmers over the use of quad bikes after a case in which a man tending to sheep became trapped under the vehicle and died.
Frank O’Connell delivered a verdict of accidental death in the case of Michael Cronin, whose body was found underneath his quad bike, at his outside farm at Coomanore, near Bantry, on June 3 last year.
The 70-year-old, who lived at Ard Mhuire, Church Road, had only just turned down the offer of help from a neighbour as he tended to his sheep at around 10pm. His body was found the following morning, his arm pinned underneath the Honda 4-track 500 vehicle.
The cause of death was blunt force trauma with the machine compressing his chest, so he was unable to breathe. The coroner also noted mechanical asphyxiation in delivering a verdict of accidental death.
Mr Cronin's friend, Patrick O'Brien, in his statement to gardaí said he had met Michael the previous day as he was helping to shear sheep.
On the day Mr Cronin's body was found, Mr O'Brien had been due to meet him as a truck was due to be taken in to be serviced. When Mr O'Brien couldn't find Mr Cronin he walked over through the fields where Mr Cronin's sheep were located.
"On the way over I saw a red yoke in the ditch," Mr O'Brien said. He thought it was a car parked there but on his return he checked and saw Michael under what he called "the guard" — the quad bike.
"He had been dead for a while, I suppose," Mr O'Brien told gardaí.
Farmer Jonathan Crowley said in his statement to gardaí that he had met Mr Cronin the previous night and they had discussed silage and the weather, and that while Mr Cronin was a quiet man he had been in "mighty form".
He had been trying to get sheep out of the field but when Mr Crowley offered to help he said he was grand. The following day Mt Crowley got a phone call from his father, telling him to stop working as Mr Cronin had died.
Glenn Alexander, who lives next door to Mr Cronin's land, told the coroner that he had heard a vehicle being driven away at around 10pm on June 2. He presumed it was Mr Cronin but now it seemed likely that instead it was Mr Crowley.
Investigating Garda Muiris O'Conchubaire said he was notified of a farm accident and arrived at the scene at 11.50am. He met Mr Cronin's nephew, who said his uncle had been found under his quad bike.
The garda said the area was sloped and rough and he saw Mr Cronin and that his arm had been trapped under the vehicle.
He suspected that the quad bike had rolled while being driven by Mr Cronin, who was then pinned underneath it near fencing posts and wire.
The coroner heard Mr Cronin would have needed assistance to have removed the vehicle.
The Health and Safety Authority was notified and the scene was then examined.
One key aspect was that the tyre pressure of the four wheels of the vehicle were twice what they should have been for driving off-road. The PSI (pounds per square inch) ranged from six to eight, which was more suitable for driving on roads.
Mr O'Connell said: "That would have a critical effect when the quad is proceeding on rough terrain over projections up through the ground, such as stones or rocks.
He said the vehicle had been in four-wheel-drive mode and in first gear, so Mr Cronin had been driving carefully, yet the vehicle had still turned over.
The coroner emphasised this finding.
"I say this because this is the third case I have dealt with in the past few years of farmers being fatally injured from a quad bike overturning," he said.
Mr O'Connell said these vehicles were "handy" but also represented a risk.
He said he hoped farming organisations would take up the issue on behalf of the health and safety of their members.