A mother whose son was killed tragically in a workplace accident has told a court that her son would not want his death to harm “his comrades” on the site.
Harvey Wolfe (54), an amateur photographer and retired transport manager, died tragically in a crushing accident at a construction site on Harbour Road, Skerries, Co Dublin four years ago.
Felix O'Hare Contractors, with an address at Chancellor's Road, Newry, Co Down, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to breaching health and safety standards and failing to erect appropriate barriers on February 21st, 2014. The company was fined €25,000 plus the costs of the case.
The court heard that Mr Wolfe had been visiting the site on and off, with permission, to photograph the building work, and had built up a good relationship with both workers and management who supplied him with a hard-hat and high-vis gear.
On the day in question, Mr Wolfe was coming on site when he was caught between the hoarding and an excavator which was moving stones.
He suffered crush injuries and emergency services were called to the scene but were unable to resuscitate him.
His mother, Mrs Patricia Wolfe, wrote a letter read out in court in which she paid tribute to Harvey Wolfe as an "honourable man, very kind and very helpful".
She said her son’s great legacy to her was his many wonderful friends. who were helping her to cope with his loss.
Mrs Wolfe said her son had loved animals, and that she believed that prior to the accident he may have seen a seagull with something stuck in his foot and may have moved forward to help it.
Mrs Wolfe said her son had formed a very good friendship with the men on site who had become very fond of him.
She described how when she had suffered TB as a child, her father would sit by her bed and tell her stories from when he fought at the Battle of the Somme during WWI. What affected her father most of all, she said, was the loss of his comrades in the trenches.
“That’s how I know that Harvey would not want his death to harm these men – his comrades,” she concluded.
Judge Martin Nolan offered his condolences to Mrs Wolfe on what he said was a tragedy for her and for Mr Wolfe's friends.
“He was a much-loved man, with wide interests and a great circle of friendship,” said the judge, adding that all the workers at the site had also developed a friendship with Mr Wolfe and were “extremely regretful and extremely sorry”.
Judge Nolan said that although Felix O’Hare Ltd was a good and responsible company with no record of conviction, Mr Wolfe shouldn’t have been allowed on site on the day and there should have been stronger methods used to prevent access.
Frank Kerins, a Health and Safety Authority Inspector, said the company cooperated fully with all aspects of the investigation and was a reputable firm with a well-run site.
Mr Kerins told Sinead McMullan BL, prosecuting, that the digger had been engaged in moving a pile of loose stones from the road and that the builders had put a few cones out on the road to warn cars driving by.
Mr Kerins said there ought to have been interlocking plastic fencing in place to stop anyone from walking onto site, and that ideally there should also have been a banks-man out on the road directing traffic and pedestrians and stopping anyone from walking on site.
Mr Kerins agreed with Johnathan Kilfeather SC, defending, that while Mr Wolfe had been escorted on site several times with the blessing of the company, there had been other times when he was refused access because of particular work taking place at the time.
Mr Kerins further agreed that all the men in the company had been deeply affected by Mr Wolfe’s death and had required and been given counselling.
The court heard how the directors of the company had attended Mr Wolfe’s funeral and how, on the anniversary of his death, they had visited Mrs Wolfe to bring her flowers.
Mr Kilfeather said the company took health and safety very seriously but that that there had been an “unfortunate lapse” on the day and that they have since taken steps to improve their procedures.
The court heard that since the accident, the company has increased the number of its health and safety officers from one to three.