Limavady farmer fined £2,500 over death of worker after fall
A judge has described as profoundly tragic the circumstances in which a farm labourer fell to his death while helping a farmer to repair a storm damaged barn roof.
Robert Kelly, 56, fell three metres from a ladder onto a concrete floor on the dairy farm owned by his close friend John Mervyn Thompson, 49, at Dowland Road near Limavady, Co Derry.
Thompson pleaded guilty at the Crown Court in Derry to a charge of failing to ensure a safe working environment for Mr Kelly, who died in hospital the day after the farmyard accident on March 26.
A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that Mr. Kelly had worked for the defendant on a casual basis for fifteen years. The two men were working together to repair a perspex skylight panel on a corrugated iron barn roof.
Mr Kelly went into the barn and climbed up a ladder to work on the roof from underneath, but he fell to his death while looking at the defendant through a hole in the roof. The barrister said there was neither scaffolding nor a safety harness in the barn.
Defence barrister Eoghan Devlin said the Kelly and Thompson families had been friends for many years and were still close friends despite the tragic death of Mr Kelly. He said the defendant had comforted Mr. Kelly's family and he had paid a hefty price for the loss of a close personal friend.
"Such was their friendship that Mr. Kelly was not simply a casual employee. No financial penalty can make good nor recompense for this type of personal loss and the defendant is still struggling with the grief of the loss of his friend", he said.
Judge Babington said it was a profoundly tragic case.
"It is one that yet again illustrates the dangers of working in farms in Northern Ireland. This was two friends patching up a roof together. The degree of negligence was at the lower end and not at the higher end", he said.
Judge Babington then fined the defendant £2,500.
"I realise this is not the price of Mr Kelly's life, it is simply to mark the fact that a law was broken with tragic circumstances", he said.
Kevin Campbell, an inspector with HSENI’s major investigation team said: “This accident was completely preventable and underlines why farmers must not ignore the potential dangers associated with working at heights.
"Farmers must never take shortcuts and should ensure that proper controls, such as scaffolding, should always be in place to prevent workers being injured. They should also consider using a professional roofing contractor when required.
"Falls from height are one of the four main causes of accidents resulting in serious injuries and death on Northern Ireland’s farms. The dangers associated with working at height have been well publicised through the Farm Safety Partnership’s ongoing multi-media campaign - Stop and Think SAFE.”