Grain company fined following death of two workers

Friday 25 October 2013 22.03
Terry Brennan (l) and Paul Farrell died in an elevator pit at Drummonds Ltd plant at Knockbridge, Co Louth
Terry Brennan (l) and Paul Farrell died in an elevator pit at Drummonds Ltd plant at Knockbridge, Co Louth

A grain company has been fined €125,000 and costs following an accident that claimed the lives of two men in August 2009.

Father-of-three, Paul Farrell, 34, and student Terry Brennan, 19, both died while working in an elevator pit over a grain silo at the Drummonds Ltd plant at Knockbridge, Co Louth.

The company pleaded guilty to a single breach of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work regulations.

The Health and Safety Authority investigated the accident.

Dundalk Circuit Court heard how the company manager had found both men lying on the ground in the elevator pit and efforts by him to pull them out failed because he became faint and at one point collapsed.

The pit could only be accessed by firemen using breathing apparatus.

The court was told the men had been working in a confined space and the carbon dioxide levels were elevated while the oxygen levels were severely depleted.

Health and Safety Authority inspector Vincent Darcy said oxygen levels are normally at 20-21%, but that in the pit, levels were 11.5%.

The level of carbon dioxide, which is normally 0.03% was in the region of 20-30%.

He said the men would have died instantly.

In response to Judge Michael O'Shea, Mr Darcy said there are warning systems in relation to the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide but there was "nothing in the facility to warn anybody of any danger in the elevator system."

The court also heard that the company has since invested substantially in health and safety measures in all eight of its plants and there are site-specific risk assessments.

The company pleaded guilty at an early opportunity and it acknowledged the elevator pit was a confined space but was not identified by them as one and accepted responsibility for the horrific events on the day, the judge was told.

In her victim impact statement, Mr Farrell's widow, Frances, said: "My heart is not just broken it is shattered."

She spoke of trying to live without, "the love of my life, my childhood sweetheart, the one person I built my dreams with and planned to grow old with.”

Frances Brennan, mother of Terry, said his death has left "a vacuum that can never be filled."

She said he had been the eldest of her five children and, "was a great role model for his four brothers and sister and friends."

Passing sentence Judge O'Shea said a warning device would have been a "proper precaution and system" for the men and instead they were exposed to excessive levels of carbon dioxide which resulted in their deaths.

He told the families that a fine cannot reflect the loss they have suffered.

He imposed a fine of €125,000 plus expenses of €19,600.