Drummonds fined €125,000 after death of two workers in grain silo

Agri-mechant business Dummonds Ltd, was today fined a total of €125,000 plus Health and Safety Authority (HSA) expenses of €19,600 and legal costs before Judge Michael O’Shea in Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court.

The Company had earlier pleaded guilty to a charge under Section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

On August 10 2009 a serious incident occurred in the Drummonds Ltd facility in Knockbridge, Co Louth, as a result of which two persons, 19 year old Terry Brennan and his colleague 34 year old Paul Farrell, lost their lives. Both were employees of Drummonds Ltd.

The two men entered an elevator pit to undertake some repair works on machinery by means of an access hatch and a vertical ladder fixed to the wall which led 3.4 meters below ground. Whilst in the elevator pit both men were overcome by a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. Air samples taken from the elevator pit showed significantly reduced levels of Oxygen (O2) (1-2%) and extremely elevated levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) (18-20 %). Normal atmospheric conditions contain Oxygen levels at 20 -21 % and Carbon Dioxide levels at 0.03%. Anything below 19% O2 is dangerous and below 16% O2 is considered lethal.

The elevator pit is defined as a “confined space” under health and safety legislation given the substantial nature of its enclosure; the restriction on access to the elevator pit; the presence of a harmful gas (CO2) and the lack, or reasonably foreseeable lack, of Oxygen (O2). Atmospheric tests undertaken, during the course of the Health and Safety Authority investigation, from deep within the body of the grain within the silos identified elevated levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

In the weeks prior to the incident freshly harvested grain was stored in the three large silos located adjacent to the elevator pit and above ground. These silos had low level access chutes that allowed the grain to flow from the silos to the elevator pit. These access chutes also allowed the build-up of the CO2 gas to percolate from the silos into the elevator pit.

The safety management system and systems of work for the Drummonds Ltd. facility in Knockbridge were found to be extremely inadequate in that the company failed to undertake an assessment of the risks to their employees’ safety, health and welfare whilst at work.  They failed to (1) identify the elevator pit as a location where work was to be carried out; (2) recognise the elevator pit as a “confined space” as defined under the legislation; (3) put in place appropriate systems of work and necessary supervision, training and equipment for entry into such confined spaces.

As a direct result of these failures by Drummonds Ltd, both Terry Brennan and Paul Farrell died.

Speaking after the sentencing hearing Brian Higgisson, Assistant Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Authority said: “The dangers of working in confined spaces are extremely serious. Harmful gases can be present and the risk of fatalities is high. There are clear measures that must be taken before any work in a confined space begins; starting with identifying hazards, implementing safe systems of work and then creating emergency and rescue procedures. This case showed that the company clearly failed to take these measures with tragic consequences.”

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