Hayes Fuels faces £60,000 fine over death of fork lift driver
One of Northern Ireland's leading fuel distributors and operators could face a potential fine of up to £60,000 over the death of one of its employees, a court heard today.
Hayes Fuels director Allister Hayes and risk manager Stanley Gibson both pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to breaching health and safety legislation over the death of Mark McCarroll.
Mr Gibson pleaded guilty to two charges, while Mr Hayes, on behalf of his company, pleaded guilty to charges of failing to ensure the safety of its employees and failing to ensure the safe storage of materials and objects.
The family of Mr McCarroll, a 49-year-old grand-father, were present in the public gallery today when details of the events surrounding his death were outlined to the court.
Prosecution lawyer Kate McKay told Judge Patricia Smyth that father-of-one Mr McCarroll was working as a fork lift driver at Hayes Fuels depot at Ballutoag Road on the northern outskirts of Belfast when the tragic accident happened.
She said that on the March 27, 2013 heavy goods vehicle driver Brian Wilshaw was at the yard where his lorry was being loaded with mixed coals and briquettes.
"Mr Wilshaw flagged down Mark McCarroll in his forklift truck and he put two of three full pallets of coal on the lorry,'' said Ms McKay.
"Mr McCarroll and Mr Wilshaw were in shed two on the premises calculating the number of briquettes on a slack pallet which had been already been picked up from the ground.
"The full pallets needed by Mr Wilshaw were still in the shed and while he was engaged in gathering loose briquettes from this area, Mr McCarroll was standing on the slack pallet counting the bales.
"Mr McCarroll pulled a bale out and had time to set this on the ground at which stage two pallet stacks fell on top of him.
"Mr Wilshaw shouted a warning but Mr McCarroll was unable to avoid being hit.''
The court heard that medical assistance was called to the yard but Mr McCarroll died two days later on March 29 from chest and pelvic injuries.
Judge Smyth was told that the Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland (HSENI) found a number of breaches by Hayes Fuels, including:
- Failing to provide adequate measures for employees and non-employees for working close to material stored at height
- Failing to provide measures to ensure that they were not required to work near unstable pallets;
- Suitable storage systems should have been developed to prevent material falling from a distance and harming people, including the correct placement of products onto pallets, stacking on level ground and adhering to height limits.
HSENI said that Hayes Fuels should have used an overlapping or 'staircase' system to store pallets.
Ms McKay said that Hayes Fuels claimed to base its storage system on the product's manufacturers in Germany.
"This may be suitable where the the only interaction with a pallet is by a forklift truck,'' the prosecution lawyer added.
"But in the case of Hayes, operators have to be close to stacks of briquettes for loading/unloading, quality checks and stock-taking.
"The company failed to adjust and tailor the risk assessment and control measures in order to account for the difference between the storage system in Germany and that in Belfast.''
The court was told that in September 2012, Hayes Fuels hired Stanley Gibson Partnership to advise them on health and safety issues and his company subsequently carried out an audit of the premises.
Added Ms McKay: "He had noticed hazards within the warehouse and had described some of the control measures but had omitted to complete the audit for this.
"Mr Gibson admitted at interview that this was an omission, essentially blaming this on the work pressures put on an employee of Hayes, in that the employee was diverted from accompanying him to examine other mainteance issues on the site.
"Mr Gibson did not return to the area to complete the audit.''
Judge Smyth was told that Stanley Gibson Partnership had provided "numerous risk assessments'' to Hayes Fuels and that lignite materials (briquettes) is intended to be included in the risk for solid fuels.
"However, there is no account mentioned to matters such as the size of pallets how the pallet and load base varied or how the lignite pallets are to be stacked.
"It considered that the risk assessments and safety audit completed by Stanley Gibson Partnership were neither adequate nor sufficient.''
The court that victim impact reports said that Mr McCarroll's partner Barbara Thompson had "suffered both emotionally and financially from the loss of her long term partner''.
Ms McKay added that his only son Christopher had suffered "disruption to his employment and sleep patterns in the wake of his father's untimely death''.
Judge Smyth was told that the maximum penalty that could be imposed is an unlimited fine and/or two years in prison.
However, the judge heard that fines in previous similar cases of a death of an employee at a workplace has ranged from £20,000 to £60,000.
Brett Lockhart QC for Stanley Gibson told Judge Smyth: "I have read the victim impact statement and I want to publicly state just how devastated my client is that he has been in any way associated with or responsible for the tragic accident.
"You cannot read those statements without recognising the impact this has had on his family.
"This has been absolutely devastating for my client. This is the first time has found himself in court.
"He has absolutely no criminal record. His record in his field of work over 25 years has been truly exemplary.
"He identified the problem on the premises but accepts he didn't not take the next step and complete his audit.''
Defence barrister Ronan Daly for Hayes Fuels said that on behalf of the company and Allister Hayes he wanted to "express their sincere apologies to the McCarroll family''.
Adjourning sentencing for a month, Judge Smyth told the court: "This is a very tragic case and there is a great deal for me consider.''