A Co Londonderry quarrying company has been fined £150,000 for breaches in health and safety arising out of the death of an employee more than four years ago.
Magherafelt company F P McCann Limited, which employs 600 people, had been accused of the corporate manslaughter of dumper truck driver Victor Nicholl and of failing to ensure a suitable restraining system at their Knockloughrim premises on March 13, 2015.
However, the charges were “left on the books” and not proceeded with after the company, with a turnover of over £200m, admitted two breaches in failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees, and failing to ensure the quarry and its equipment were maintained.
Antrim Crown Court Judge Geoffrey Miller QC, sitting in Belfast, said it was accepted the company breaches did not amount to systemic failure.
However, he added: “The fact a death occurred, notwithstanding that this was not directly linked or attributed to those failings, amounts to a very serious aggravating feature of this case.”
Mr Nicholl was crushed beneath the wheels of an older dumper truck he had been driving while his own was in for repair. He had left his cab, for some unknown reason, and was killed when the truck rolled forward.
Judge Miller said while he had to assess the culpability of the company and its directors in their failings and the amount of fines to impose, “nevertheless at the centre of this case is a man whose life was tragically cut short by the terrible events of that day”.
He added that “nothing said or done today can ever restore the deceased to life or provide recompense for that loss felt by those dearest to him at his passing”.
In the wake of Mr Nicholl’s death, an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI), and an examination of the truck, highlighted a number of faults including low brake efficiencies, no parking brake, no emergency steering and no working seatbelt. Edge protection in the stockpile area was also found to be below the recommended height of 1.5m, although it was sufficient to stop the truck on this occasion.
Judge Miller said: “There can be no doubt that there is a high duty placed upon those such as the defendant company ... in such circumstances any defects can create a serious risk, and in that regard this defendant clearly fell short on this occasion.”
However, in his conclusions he added while the breaches were serious and not confined to a single omission or failure of procedure, “there is no direct link between the breaches and the death of Mr Nicholl”.
Judge Miller said in the circumstances he would impose fines of £75,000 on each of the two breaches, and would allow the company up to three months to pay the total of £150,000.
In a statement issued afterwards, HSENI principal inspector Anne Boylan said: “The vehicle that Mr Nicholl was driving on the day of the incident had not been maintained in a safe condition and was not fit for use in a hazardous environment such as a quarry.
“Employers must ensure that work equipment, including work vehicles, undergo regular planned maintenance. Failure to do so may result in unsafe vehicles, leading to potentially serious or even fatal accidents.
“Robust systems must be in place to check that maintenance schedules are adhered to and vehicles are in a safe condition at all times.”