Crane firms fined €225,000 over breaches that led to Limerick deaths of two men

Parents of late Bryan Whelan said result was ‘of little consolation’ for loss but offered ‘some closure after seven long years’

Two companies have been fined by a court a total of €225,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act that led to the drownings of two stonemasons in Limerick city, seven years ago.

Bryan Whelan (29) of O’Briensbridge, Co Clare, and TJ O’Herlihy (36) Castleisland, Co Kerry, both plunged to their deaths in the River Shannon as they carried out repair works on the side of Thomond Bridge, on August 29th 2015.

A safety mechanism on a crane that was holding the two men and a third co-worker, in a steel cage, over the side of the bridge, had failed to operate, Limerick Circuit Court heard.

Judge Tom O’Donnell imposed a fine of €200,000 on Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd, Dock Road, Limerick, and a €25,000 fine on Palfinger Ireland Ltd, Church Hill, Cloncollog, Tullamore, Co Offaly.


The maximum fine open to the court to impose on Palfinger was an unlimited sum, and Nationwide had faced a maximum fine of €3 million.

At a previous sentencing hearing, last July, some of the dead men’s loved ones had to leave the court after becoming distressed when video footage of the incident was played.

A safety mechanism aimed at preventing weight overloading on the crane had failed, resulting in “unbearable stress” on a wire rope that was holding the men in a steel cage platform hanging over the side of the bridge, said senior prosecuting counsel Shane Costelloe SC. The wire “snapped” sending the platform and the men, who were harnessed into it and wearing life jackets, into the river.

Mr Whelan and Mr O’Herlihy, both drowned as they could not escape from the steel cage.

Their co-worker, Paul Murphy, from Askeaton, Co Limerick, managed to free his harness and was rescued.

Following investigations the Health and Safety Authortiy (HSA) brought a prosecution against Nationwide and Palfinger.

Palfinger supplied the winch crane to Nationwide in 2003, but unbeknown to Palfinger, the crane’s user manual was missing a chapter on the importance of frequently carrying out testing of the crane’s overload protection system. It later emerged this mechanism failed.

The crane had been mounted on to a flatbed lorry which was positioned on the bridge with an extendable telescopic winch that held the three workers in a steel cage via a wire rope or cable.

Palfinger pleaded guilty to failing to take steps necessary to ensure Nationwide was provided with adequate information about the crane and its operations, to ensure that when it was in use it would be safe.

Nationwide pleaded guilty that, being an employer, it failed to ensure that contracted workers were not exposed to risks to their safety, health and welfare, and that it failed to ensure the winch crane was in a safe condition, in particular, the overload protection system, and “as a consequence TJ O’Herlihy and Bryan Whelan died”, the court heard.

The families of the two deceased men, and Paul Murphy, have each lodged civil proceedings against Palfinger and Nationwide.

Speaking through their solicitor is Sean Fitzgerald outside the court on Friday, John and Margaret Whelan, bereaved parents of the late Bryan Whelan, said while the fines imposed on Nationwide and Palfinger were “of little consolation for the loss of our son” it offered “some closure after seven long years”.