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Wicklow company fined €30k after employee fatally struck by manhole cover

CourtsBy Sunday World
RSJ director John Kenny
RSJ director John Kenny

A Wicklow civil engineering company has been fined €30,000 for health and safety failures which resulted in an employee being fatally struck by a manhole cover.

Polish father Grzegorz Burczak (31) was working on a manhole when he was fatally impacted by the cover after it was struck by a traffic cone which had been knocked over by a passing car.

RSJ Civil Ltd of South Winds, South Quay, Arklow had a plea of guilty entered on its behalf at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to failing to provide systems of work ensuring the safety, health and welfare of its employees in relation to carrying out works to manhole covers at Kill Avenue Dun Laoghaire on June 12, 2012.

The investigation found the company had failed to provide advanced warning signs or a safety exclusion zone and had insufficient traffic cones in place around the works.

Sinead McMullen BL, prosecuting, outlined a victim impact statement from Mr Burczak's widow. She said they had been a normal, happy family with dreams and plans prior to the incident and had planned to return to Poland with their now 13 year old son. She said her son was now scared he would lose her as well.

Ronan Kennedy BL, defending said “human error” played a large part in the incident and John Kenny, a director of RSJ, had not considered that it was a “live road” rather than a site. He had provided himself and Mr Burczak with hard hats, high viz jackets as well as putting up the cones.

Counsel said RSJ Civil Ltd had been formed in 2009 when the directors decided to go out on their own after being made redundant. He said it was small and close-knit company which had no previous convictions and had had no further health and safety issues.

Following the tragedy the company completed a full review of health and safety and engaged a consultant to make sure the systems were of the highest standard.

He said he was instructed to convey the company's “deep and profound regret” for the incident.

Mr Kennedy said they had been simply trying to help out which made it all the more tragic.

He handed in an auditor's report and said the company was well run and took its responsibilities seriously.

Judge Melanie Greally accepted that the accident was “largely attributable to human error” but noted there was also a lapse in providing the appropriate training.

She also acknowledged that Mr Kenny had exposed himself to the same risk as Mr Burczak as he was working on the same site at the time.

Judge Greally noted from the victim impact report the “enduring effects” Mr Burczak's widow faced from the loss of her husband and her son's father and said the case represented “an unavoidable and unnecessary loss of human life”.

The judge accepted that the company had always been responsible about the safety of their employees and had undertaken a substantial number of projects without incident. She also accepted that they co-operated fully with the investigation and had expressed genuine upset and regret about Mr Burczak's death.

Kevin Broderick, an inspector with the Health and Safety Authority, told Ms McMullan that RSJ Civil Ltd was a subcontractor working on a development off Kill Avenue.

There had been complaints from local residents about “rattling” noises coming from manhole covers along Kill Avenue which was beside the site. Fixing this work was not the responsibility of RSJ but Mr Kenny was asked to take a look.

Mr Kenny found that the seals on the manholes needed to be replaced. As the material to fix the issue was available on site Mr Kenny returned after lunch with Mr Burczak to replace the seals. Two safety cones were placed in front of the first manhole cover which was successfully repaired.

The cones were then moved to the second manhole. As Mr Burczak was working on the manhole removing the seal, one of the safety cones was struck by a car causing part of it to detach. Part of the cone struck the manhole cover causing it to fatally impact on Mr Burczak.

During the subsequent investigation an expert engineer found that two cones were not sufficient to highlight the obstruction and separate the site from passing traffic. He said a minimum of nine cones were required and up to 19 cones in certain situations.

The investigation found there had been no provision made for a safety zone and there was no advanced signage.

Mr Broderick agreed with Mr Kennedy, that the road upgrade works on Kill Avenue where the manholes were rattling had not (NOT) been carried out by RSJ Civil Ltd. Another subcontractor had carried out work on the road 16 to 18 months earlier.

He agreed that Mr Kenny and RSJ Civil Ltd did not work in situations involving live traffic. The other directors were not aware the work on the manholes was being carried out.

Fiona Ferguson