Council worker died after falling tree hit phone cable, inquest told

Jury recommends new regulations be introduced to protect those felling trees

New regulations to make it safer for people cutting down trees have been recommened by an inquest jury in Cork.

New regulations to make it safer for people cutting down trees have been recommened by an inquest jury in Cork.


New regulations to make it safer for people cutting down trees have been recommened by an inquest jury in Cork.

It follows the death of a father of three who was hit by a telegraph pole which snapped after a tree fell on a telephone cable during a tree-cutting operation.

The jury at Cork City Coroner’s Court returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of Cork County Council employee Michael O Donovan (45), from Killeenleigh, Aghabullogue. He was fatally injured during tree clearing work at Arderrig, Carr’s Hill on November 23rd, 2012.

The jury recommended the introduction of statutory guidelines on tree felling similar to those in the UK, including an exclusion zone twice the length of the tree and the use of tree felling equipment, including winches, ropes and a felling bar, as well as risk control training for staff.

The inquest heard Mr O’Donovan was working with another council employee, foreman John Sexton, in clearing debris from trees that were being felled by another man, Pat Buttimer, who was working for a contractor hired by the council to clear a way leave over a water pipe to Ringaskiddy.

Mr Buttimer told the inquest he had cut a notch in a sally tree and then used his back arm of a digger to put some pressure on the tree so it would fall in the right direction. But because it was near the road, he had to put the pressure on the tree from an angle.


He said Mr O’Donovan was standing at the front of the digger and he did not believe the tree could fall in his direction as the bucket of the digger was up against it. But while cutting the tree, he felt pressure on the tip of the chainsaw and realised the tree was starting to twist.

“I saw Michael out the corner of my eye. He was standing outside the fence looking down at the tree stump,” Mr Buttimer said. “He was not in a position where he would have been protected by the digger. After the tree fell, I heard John Sexton shout that Michael was on the ground.”

Mr Sexton told the inquest that when he saw the tree starting to twist, he shouted at least three times to Mr O’Donovan to run out of the way but he could not hear him because of the noise from both the chain saw and the digger.

“The tree fell on the telephone cable and the pole snapped. The next thing I saw was that Michael was on the ground and he was bleeding,” said Mr Sexton.

Mr O’Donovan “got a bang on the head from the telegraph pole and part of it was lying by him”, he added.

Pat Murphy, senior executive engineer with Cork County Council, said since Mr O’Donovan’s death, the council has introduced changes so that no council staff are involved in tree felling and it has introduced UK statutory guidelines on tree felling for all contractors.


Sgt Fergus Twomey said the incident had been the subject of a Health and Safety Authority investigation which led to the prosecution of Cork County Council and the council being fined €48,000 for a breach of safety regulations.

The court heard Mr O’Donovan was taken to Cork University Hospital but died later from his injuries.

A postmortem revealed he died from serious brain injuries due to blunt force trauma due to being hit on the head by a falling telegraph pole.

The Cork City Coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, noted the jury’s recommendations and extended her sympathies to Mr O’Donovan’s widow, Yvonne.

Ms O Donovan’s solicitor, Vincent Toher, thanked Dr Cullinane and said his client hoped the jury’s recommendations would be implemented in full.