Belfast Telegraph

Firm fined £15k over death of man who fell into hole it excavated

Hypothermia: Denis Rodgers
Hypothermia: Denis Rodgers

By Paul Higgins

A specialist environmental company has been fined £15,000 over the death of a man who fell into a hole it dug.

Denis Rodgers's body was found in a pool of water in March 2016.

Newry Crown Court heard that Belfast firm Amalgamated Environmental Services Ltd had been contracted by the Housing Executive to excavate contaminated soil at the rear of houses on Downpatrick Street in Rathfriland.

Prosecuting QC Liam McCollum outlined how a risk assessment had been conducted and that local residents, including Mr Rodgers, had been allowed to stay in their homes while the works were carried out.

He told the court that a hole measuring 42 metres at a depth of 1.2 metres had been dug out and that having assessed site security, the defendant company had erected crowd control barriers to stop people getting into the site from the street, and placed a block of timber at the rear doors of two properties. Mr Rodgers was last seen alive on March 28, 2016, and was tragically found on March 30 in the pool of water that had gathered in the excavated hole.

Mr McCollum added: "It's not clear why or how he was in the rear of his home but there's a suggestion that he may have been attempting to fill his oil tank because there was a drum found close by."

A post-mortem found that the 43-year-old father-of-two had died from hypothermia and had a number of abrasions.

The examination also indicted that Mr Rodgers was "either mildly intoxicated or more intoxicated".

He told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that AES Ltd had pleaded guilty to a single count of failing to take all reasonably practical steps to ensure the health and safety of non-employees in that "while they erected a barrier so that entry was hindered", the site wasn't completely secure.

Defence QC Frank O'Donoghue argued that, with a full risk assessment having been conducted, "all relevant statutory procedures were followed".

He said "culpability cannot be viewed as being high".

He said the company, which had a clear record and an excellent reputation, had changed its systems and improved communication levels in order to avoid the possibility of something similar happening again.

Imposing a £15,000 fine, the same figure the firm was paid for the contract, Judge Kerr said the Rodgers family's' "tragic loss is always something that the court has to treat as seriously as it deserves".

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