Cork city coroner’s court was told yesterday that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) — which mounted the prosecution against University College Cork (UCC) arising out of the death on campus three years ago of maintenance staff member, Frank McGrath — has accepted the “significantly enhanced procedures”.
A jury returned a verdict of accidental death after hearing how Mr McGrath, 58, from Richmond Hill, Cork, died instantly on March 5, 2013, when the front wheel of a cherrypicker rolled over him.
A post mortem found he died from severe trauma to the chest, shock and haemorrhage, consistent with a tyre running over his chest.
The inquest could not establish why Mr McGrath came close to the cherry-picker before being crushed beneath it.
But city coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, was told that he had not been trained to act as a warning man for a cherrypicker, and that there was a significant “blind spot” of up to 150ft ahead of the vehicle, given the position the operator’s basket was in at the time.
The inquest was told that Mr McGrath and John Punch were using the cherrypicker during routine lighting maintenance work and were on their way from one site to another with the machine when the accident happened at about 3.30pm.
Mr Punch was at the controls of the cherrypicker, driving it at no more than seven miles (11kms) per hour up an internal avenue near the Glucksman Gallery, while Mr McGrath, who was wearing a yellow hi-vis vest, walked in front as a banksman, directing Mr Punch and alerting pedestrians.
However, HSA inspector, Michael Flynn, told the coroner that Mr McGrath had not been given formal training on how to work as a banksman, and that Mr Punch, while trained to operate the machine, had not been given any formal training on how to interact with a banksman.
He said that while a formal ‘permit to work system’ was in place in UCC at the time, the movement of the cherrypicker fell outside the scope of the policy. He said there was no specific hazard or risk analysis for the movement of such maintenance vehicles across campus.
And he said while the college’s own safety document placed responsibility for the on-campus movement of such vehicles with a senior manager, the college had failed to bring that to the attention of the manager.
Mr Punch told the inquest that one moment he could see Mr McGrath walking in front of the machine, and the next he heard a shout and realised there had been an accident.
Eye- witness Shauna O’Donnell said that it looked as if McGrath fell moments before the cherrypicker rolled over him. She rushed to help, along with fellow students, Cónal Wrigley, Mycheala Hunt, and Bon Secours nurse, Martina Burns. The alarm was raised and Mr Wrigley administered CPR while UCC staff member Elaine Tynan used a mobile defibrillator until paramedics arrived about eight minutes later.
They battled for another 40-minutes to save him but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gardaí said the cherrypicker was in good working order and there was no sign of a loss of control before the accident.
Following a lengthy HSA investigation, UCC pleaded guilty last year at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to two breaches of health and safety legislation, arising out of the fatal accident, and was fined €80,000 last November.
Judge Donagh McDonagh said the breaches were at the less serious end of the spectrum, describing them as “systems failure of a less gross nature”.
Yesterday, Mark Poland, UCC’s director of buildings and estates, told the coroner that they have now introduced several new policies and procedures.
Staff using cherrypickers must undergo specific signalling training, banksmen or signal men must wear special red hi-vis suits, and they must use hand-held radios to communicate with the operator, he said.
He also said that a specific risk assessment has been conducted on all routes and avenues running through the college campus.
The jury endorsed Mr Flynn’s recommendations for the safe use of cherrypickers, including giving banksmen unique hi-vis clothing, positioning the control basket to maximise the operator’s field of vision, using a radio system to enhance communication between a banksman and the operator, agreeing a minimum approach distance for the banksman, and in the event of losing sight of the banksman, the operator should stop the vehicle immediately.
A tree has been planted on the grounds of UCC in memory of Mr McGrath, a popular member of staff and a member of UCC’s governing body.
College was fined €80k after employee was crushed by cherrypicker