One of Northern Ireland's biggest construction firms has been fined £75,000 for breaches in health and safety rules which resulted in the death of a father-of-four.
Antrim Crown Court heard that Limavady joiner Dessie Stevenson died from crushing injuries when a 1.5 tonne roof from a building collapsed on the 62-year-old at RAF Aldergrove on September 19, 2006, after just over a week on the job.
Fining Henry Brothers Magherafelt a total of £75,000 for two breaches of the legislation and their former architect Anthony Stewart £5,000, Judge Corinne Philpott accepted the tragic accident was not a result of any cost-cutting at the expense of safety but was more as a result of ignorance.
However, the judge said it had been caused “by a complete failure to recognise the risk involved with regard to the instability of this section when being relocated and being re-erected”.
Judge Philpott was to later add that while the court had “some sympathy” for the company, surrounded as it was by experts, it was also “difficult for this court to comprehend how no-one recognised the dangers involved”.
At the time, Henry Brothers were in charge of a £7.5m Ministry of Defence contract at the site.
Part of the contract entailed the moving of a Barlow sectional building some 200 metres from one location to another.
Eight of the 10 sections had been successfully moved, but as attempts were made to secure the ninth, one of the walls of the building collapsed sideways, bringing the roof down on Mr Stevenson.
Judge Philpott said that the potential for collapse had never been considered and that no risk assessment as to the danger was made.
She added later that reading victim impact reports from Mr Stevenson's widow and children, “that it is really hard to imagine the loss of a husband and father in such circumstances, but it must be remembered what happened was not deliberate, and with hindsight, if the company and those involved could go back, they would do things differently.”
Judge Philpott said that while it may be of little consolation to the Stevenson family, it was only hoped that an accident of this nature does not occur again.
The judge added that Henry Brothers, who have agreed to pay the court and investigation costs, readily admitted their guilt and co-operated fully with the Health and Safety Executive.
A spokeswoman for Henry Brothers said that “the death of our esteemed employee Dessie Stevenson has always been deeply felt by his colleagues and the Henry family and our thoughts are with the Stevenson family at this difficult time”.
She added that despite the tragedy, the company has always placed “the utmost priority on the health and safety of our employees and work strenuously to minimise risk and are committed to continual health and safety training for all employees”.
Louis Burns, head of the health and safety investigation team, said the tragedy demonstrated the importance for all in the construction business to consider all significant risks at the design stage. He added that, as the judge said, in this case, “the breaches were very obvious and there is a responsibility to the people on the ground doing the work”.