A plant hire firm has been fined €80,000 and ordered to pay over €10,000 in costs after the company was convicted of failing to maintain proper safety standards when one of its employees was struck by an excavator and ended up losing his leg.
Tom Lynes Plant Hire Ltd of Cecilstown, Mallow, Co Cork pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to failing to ensure the safety of its employees by failing to have in place an exclusion order around works that the company was carrying out at Ballyellis, Mallow on July 20th 2018.
The charge, which is contrary to Health and Safety legislation, further stated that as a consequence of the company failing to have an exclusion order in place to separate pedestrians from operational vehicles, employee Nicholas Geaney had suffered injury.
Tom Lynes Plant Hire Ltd also pleaded guilty to a second breach of Health and Safety legislation in that it failed to ensure that Nicholas Geaney was in possession of a valid Safety Awareness Registration Card when engaged by the company in operating a mulching machine.
Health and Safety Authority Inspector, Frances Murphy told the court that the company was carrying out clearance work at a private house at Ballyellis, Mallow removing trees and bushes to allow the owner to run some overhead power lines underground.
The larger trees were removed from the site but the smaller trees and bushes were being fed into a mulching machine by Mr Geaney and a work colleague while two other men were involved in the operation of an excavator which was digging up earth.
She told the court that Mr Geaney was to the back or the side of the excavator and never heard or saw it approach as it reversed and his left leg got caught beneath one of its tracks and, when he was freed, he was rushed to Cork University Hospital but he lost the leg from below the knee.
Mr Geaney was not wearing a high visibility vest at the time and he also suffered from a hearing impairment which may have affected his ability to hear the excavator approach him as he worked on the mulching machine with his colleague, the court heard.
Ms Murphy confirmed Tom Lynes Plant Hire Ltd had no previous convictions for breaches of health and safety legislation while she accepted a submission from defence counsel, Tom Creed SC that the company had a general safety statement even though Mr Geaney did not have a safety pass.
Mr Geaney wasn’t in court for the case but a victim impact statement was read into evidence on his behalf in which he outlined how the injury had changed his life completely both in terms of his ability to work and relax and enjoy leisure pursuits.
"My life is destroyed forever more. I cannot work anymore. I used to do odd days for farmers, fencing and washing sheds and cannot do this now... I often feel down because of what happened to me," said Mr Geaney, a middle aged man who lives in nearby Ballyclough.
"My cycling career is over. I cannot go on long cycles. I used to do the Ring of Kerry and Ring of Beara every year. I used to meet friends the night before and the night after and cannot do this anymore. Cycling was my favourite hobby and I really miss it," he added.
Mr Creed said his client, who knew Mr Geaney well and was giving him a few days' work on the occasion, apologised to him and was extremely sorry for what happened. Tom Lynes Plant Hire Ltd. was fully insured to meet the civil case arising out of the accident, he said.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said Mr Geaney and his work colleagues were involved in a straightforward operation of clearing trees and shrubs and mulching them but it needed proper supervision given there was also an excavator working at the site.
“It was a straightforward operation but one that needs a fair amount of supervision particularly when you have an excavator and a mulching machine operating without a proper demarcation. Supervision is so fundamental and basic and it was not here.
“The excavator and the mulcher were in close proximity without any regard for movements and dangers. It was eminently avoidable by basic oversight, instruction and supervision but that was completely missing in this case.”
Judge Ó Donnabháin said the accident had a catastrophic effect on Mr Geaney’s life, losing his left leg below the knee and while he was after getting a prosthetic leg, it was taking him time to try to adjust to what had happened to him.
Hearing that Tom Lynes Plant Hire Ltd had a pre-Covid turnover of €3 million with profits of around 10 per cent per annum, Judge Ó Donnabháin fined the company €80,000 and ordered it to pay €10,200 in costs and gave the company 12 months to pay.