A Co Fermanagh firm has been fined £100,000 for health and safety breaches which caused the death of a talented GAA player.
Passing sentence on Quinn Building Products Ltd at Omagh Crown Court on Thursday, Judge Paul Ramsey QC said Brian Og Maguire’s “young life had been snuffed out” three years ago while working for the Derrylin-based company.
Director Liam McCaffrey had last week pleaded guilty on behalf of the company for failing to ensure health safety of employees and failing to maintain work equipment.
The death of the 24-year-old on September 13, 2013 led to an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive NI (HSE).
The court heard Mr Maguire was tensioning a steel rope measuring 125 metres (410ft).
It then came free at one end and travelled back at Mr Maguire, who was positioned in a safety cage.
The rope splayed, and two of the individual strands struck Mr Maguire causing him fatal injuries.
Judge Ramsey QC said that a HSE inspection revealed three segments which gripped the steel rope showed signs of “wear and damage”.
A tapered barrel, in which the grips were positioned, was worn.
This resulted in the rope gradually slipping through the grips during the tensioning and being released – with a force of up to six tonnes.
The judge said it was clear that the company did not have “suitable arrangements in place to check the grips and barrels”.
The court was told that among the aggravating factors, was that there had been previous incidents of the rope coming adrift but they had not been recorded or addressed by the company.
Describing it as an “agonising and heartbreaking case”, Judge Ramsey QC said the death of Brian Og Maguire had had a “devastating impact” on his parents, Brian and Eileen, his two sisters, his wider family circle and the GAA community in Fermanagh where he played senior football for his county.
In a victim impact to the court, the deceased’s mother Eileen Maguire said: “I try to keep up the spirits of the family every day but I am so consumed by grief.”
The court heard that the company had a previous conviction in 1997 for four health and safety breaches and was fined a total of £10,000.
The judge said Quinn Building Products Ltd was a company which had “substantial profits and assets” and had grossed on average of £15m over the past three years.
The £100,000 is to be paid within four weeks.
Afterwards, Quinn Building Products Limited said although they were “not involved in the business at the time of accident, the company’s directors accept the shortcomings that existed at that time”. It added: “Since taking control of the business, Quinn Building Products Limited has worked closely with the HSE and implemented significant changes to work practices, and continues to make every possible effort to ensure that no such incident occurs again.”
In a written statement issued afterwards, heartbroken parents Brian and Eileen Maguire said: “We have been robbed of our only son and our future. The girls have lost their only brother. All our hopes and dreams are shattered and our lives changed forever.
“The horror of what we had to face that day is still unbearable, the pain excruciating and relentless.”
Defence barrister Kieran Mallon QC had described incident in court last week as a “freakish accident”, and Frank O’Donoghue QC, for the prosecution, said Mr Maguire had been “singularly unlucky” to have been killed.
The family statement added: “The truth of the matter is that if the proper health and safety procedures had been in place our son would be alive today. Far from being a freak accident it was an accident waiting to happen.
“The loss of my beloved Brian Og is something I will never come to terms with. The death of a child is the most severe of all emotional issues.
“I agonise over his last moments and just wish I could have got to him.
“The horror of what happened to him will haunt me every day for the rest of my life.
“The fact that it could have been prevented makes it even harder to take.
“The penalty imposed on the company responsible for the death of Brian Og is of very little relevance to us nor will it ease in any way the desperate situation we have been left in.
“For them it may be over today but for us it will go on forever,” the statement concluded.
Following sentencing today, Louis Burns, an HSE inspector, said: “Whilst the steel rope behaved in an unexpected manner when it came adrift, it is clear that the company had not implemented a robust system to manage, inspect and maintain safety critical equipment in this high risk industry.
“This tragic incident was avoidable and it is hard to overstate the potential for death or serious injury arising from poor maintenance.
“Care must be taken to properly identify safety for critical items in any process and to ensure that the correct people, equipment and systems of work are provided to maintain these.
“It wasn’t on this occasion and a life was needlessly lost as a result,” added Mr Burns.