Machine operators complacent, says judge in UCC case

University pleads guilty to health and safety breaches after cherry picker accident

The operators of machinery such as cherry pickers have become complacent, warned a judge on Thursday as he fined University College Cork €80,000 for breaches of health and safety following a fatal incident two years ago.

Judge Donagh McDonagh told how he had been in Patrick Street in Cork just a day previously and had noticed a cherry picker left unattended on the pavement with its engine running and a seven-year-old boy sitting on its suspension.

“We have become utterly complacent about using machinery - nobody cares and it’s appalling,” said the judge as he dealt with the case of UCC following the death of staff member, Frank McGrath in an incident involving a cherry picker.

UCC had pleaded guilty to two breaches of Health and Safety legislation arising from the death on campus on March 5th, 2013 in which Mr McGrath (58) was operating as a ‘banksman’, walking in front of a cherry picker to warn pedestrians to stay out of the way.


Inspector Michael Flynn of the Health and Safety Authority said the machine weighed about six tonnes, had a top speed of a brisk walking pace but had a significant blind spot when being moved by the operator controlling it from the console in the basket.

“Mr McGrath walked in front of the machine, he was struck by it and the front right hand wheel rolled over him.

A registered nurse came upon the incident and rendered assistance to Mr McGrath. He was declared dead at the scene,” he said.

Mr Flynn said Mr McGrath was not given any training on how to work as a banksman nor was the man operating the cherry picker given any training on how to interact with a banksman in front of the machine.

He had looked at CCTV footage from prior to the death and it showed there was no clear communication between the banksman and the operator with no apparent structured hand signals and no radio communications while the engine made verbal communication difficult.

It was stated in the manual for the machine, rented to UCC, that the blind spot for the operator was greatly reduced by having the operator at a particular height when moving the cherry-picker and not at its lowest level where it had been at the time of the incident.

Defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC said both Mr McGrath and the cherry picker operator were experienced members of the Building and Estates staff and both had completed a course on the operation and use of the machine.

Mr O’Flynn accepted both men had done a training course on the machine but the course did not include dealing with moving it from one area to another or how to operate as a banksman for the machine.

Mr Grehan said UCC had revised their safety at work protocols since the death - the first fatal incident there since 1849 - and the university now had the best system in the world and now carries out regular training for all employees and risk assessments for all operations.

Mr McGrath’s brother, Martin told how they were notified of the death and when he arrived he saw paramedics packing up their equipment and he knew his brother was dead. It was deeply traumatic for the family, he said.

The judge said it was particularly tragic Mr McGrath had died while carrying out a safety function to protect others.

He noted UCC’s guilty pleas to the two charges and fined the university €40,000 on each charge and ordered it to pay €4,000 in investigation costs.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times