Coroner appeals for vigilance on farms

Slurry-pit death of father of two (37) in west Cork a ‘scene of horror’, says coroner

A coroner appealed to farmers to implement vigilant safety practices or face "ferocious" consequences following a harrowing day at Cork County Coroner's Court yesterday.

The tragic death of a 37-year- old father of two at his family farm near Kealkil in west Cork amounted to a “scene of horror”, coroner Frank O’Connell said.

Michael McCarthy, from Cahermackee, was overcome by toxic fumes as his father tried desperately to drag him from a slurry pit. The scene was watched by Mr McCarthy’s six-year-old son.

“I jumped down and grabbed his left arm with my right arm and held on as long as I could but he was dead weight. He slipped from me and I had to let him go. He disappeared under the slurry,” Teddy McCarthy said.


Slurry agitation

Michael (Mike) McCarthy, a butcher by trade, was helping his father agitate the slurry in preparation for spreading when the accident happened on June 20th, 2014. Mike’s son Cathal “was always with him” on the farm, Mr McCarthy said.

Michael was working with a pike to knock off a hard crust that had formed on the slurry when he was overcome by fumes.

“He [Michael] climbed to the lower step [a 1.2m drop]. He said: ‘It’s moving well now, Dad.’ Next thing I saw him stagger,” Mr McCarthy said.

He told his grandson to go and tell his grandmother what had happened.

At 5.57pm emergency services were called and neighbours arrived at the scene with equipment to empty the tank.

Bantry Fire Service station officer Ian Vickery said: "Michael had been sucked into the pit, the agitator had still been operating."

The deceased was recovered from the pit at 6.40pm. He had died after inhaling extremely high levels of hydrogen sulphide from the slurry tank, Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said.

Health and Safety Authority inspector David Barry said fatalities resulting from slurry gas were becoming an "almost annual event".

Slurry agitation should be done on a windy day in order that gases disperse, in sheds that have been vacated by both humans and animals and they should be avoided for at least an hour after the process is complete, Mr Barry said.

Safe slurry practice

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the Coroner urged farmers to be vigilant in implementing these measures and said safe slurry practice should be top of farm safety agenda.

“Familiarity breeds contempt . . . but the consequences are ferocious,” Mr O’Connell said.

“We all know someone who works in farming, we all have a vested interest to learn something from this case,” he said.

Earlier, Mr O’Connell heard details of a tragic case in which a three-year-old child was fatally injured on his family farm in west Cork last August.

The child suffered crush injuries to his chest and abdomen when he was struck by the bucket of a digger driven by his father.

Mr Barry said the digger driver had been moving material from left to right, which is the driver’s “blind side”. The child came into view only when the bucket struck him, the inquest heard.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.