Aer Lingus has been fined €250,000 for a health and safety breach in connection with the death of a cargo driver at Dublin Airport over two years ago.
The company admitted exposing non-employees to risks to their health and safety in relation to a practice which had developed of cargo drivers habitually gaining access to a loading bay by climbing onto and off a three foot high loading dock.
John Murray (55), from Skerries, Co Dublin, was climbing down from a loading bay at a cargo warehouse with some light parcels at the airport at night when he fell and suffered fatal head injuries.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard he was discovered lying on his back unconscious approximately 25 minutes later. He suffered fractures to the base of his skull and despite undergoing surgery to relieve swelling of the brain he died several days later.
The company pleaded guilty through a representative that it failed to manage and conduct its undertaking in such a way as to ensure, that individuals who were not its employees were not exposed to risks to their safety, health or welfare at or near Gate 7 at Aer Lingus Cargo Warehouse on November 5, 2014.
The full charge specifies that there was a failure to ensure that adequate measures were in place to protect people from the risk of a fall from height and that there was a failure to implement its written procedures dealing with driver access to loading bays.
The offence states that Aer Lingus “regularly permitted or required drivers to access and egress the building via the loading bay itself”.
Victim impact statements from Mr Murray’s wife Angela and their two children were handed into court.
Judge Martin Nolan extended his condolences to the Murray family. He noted Mr Murray’s death had been devastating for his family and had left a huge hole in their lives.
He noted that there was an “inherent danger” in the practice of cargo drivers taking the shortest route by hopping down off the platform but said no one could have envisaged that someone would be killed.
Judge Nolan said that the purpose of health and safety legislation was sometimes to protect people from themselves and that if people were let take a shortcut they would take it.
He noted that the company had a generally good record and that steps had been taken to address this practice since the incident. He noted the company’s early guilty plea and its apology to the family.
He said Aer Lingus was a “flagship company” and people expected it to run a good operation but in this case it had not. He noted the maximum fine applicable to this offence was €3 million but said he did not believe this was an extreme case and imposed a fine of €250,000.
Inspector Martin Convey told Michael Delaney SC, prosecuting, that the company had identified the practice as a risk in 2007 and written procedures were prepared. The company pleaded guilty to failing to implement the written procedures dealing with driver access to loading bays.
Insp Convey agreed with Shane Murphy SC, defending, that there was now strictly supervised access, a fence around the loading bay and signs in place. Spot checks were also carried out. He agreed that there had been no recurrence of this activity.
Mr Murphy said Aer Lingus deeply regretted that this tragic situation came to pass. He said the company had co-operated fully with the investigation and the current situation meets the implementation of best practice.
Mr Murphy said there had been a lack of supervision at night and bad practice had developed.
The Murray family’s solicitor Dermot McNamara confirmed that a claim for damages against Aer Lingus has been lodged in the High Court
“Whilst my clients welcome today’s verdict, it does little to ease their pain,” said Mr McNamara.
“John Murray went to work on November 5 2014 and his family expected him to return home safely.
“He died because Aer Lingus did not open and close the designated pedestrian door and instead drivers had to access the warehouse via the loading bay.
“There is no point in Aer Lingus having vital Health and Safety rules if they fail to ensure they are strictly followed.
“In this case, the failure to ensure drivers used a safe pedestrian option, ultimately cost Mr Murray his life and left a family with a devastating loss.”
Story by Fiona Ferguson of the Irish Independent, March 20th