Waterford meat factory fined after life-changing injuries to worker

By Eoghan Dalton

A meat factory worker in Waterford was left with a bleed on the brain and can no longer tend to himself after a workplace accident.

As well as the bleed, father-of-three John Elliot (51) suffered a fractured skull after the accident at Dawn Pork and Bacon on November 19, 2019.

Elliot, from Larchville, Waterford city, now wears a body brace full-time – including when sleeping – and needs help washing himself or when using the toilet.

As a result of the case, which was brought by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the company was convicted and fined a total of €4,900 and must pay costs of €3,300 to Elliot, who was represented by Halley Solicitors at Waterford District Court in the past week.

The court heard he may also be taking a civil claim against the company.

Bulk meat

The case arose at the factory at Grannagh, outside Waterford city, when Elliot, a general operative, was lifting a stack of four bins containing bulk meat weighing a total of 160kg.

HSA inspector Edward Wall said Elliot’s last memory is of moving them manually towards the edge of a mezzanine, hoping to position them for a forklift to carry, but he fell from a height of 5’4″ onto the concrete floor.

While there were no witnesses to the fall, workmates who came across him minutes later described him as “groggy and incoherent”, and the factory manager then notified the HSA.

Victim impact statement

The fall left John Elliot with a “very significant fracture” of his shoulder requiring three steel plates, 18 screws and 30 stitches, while he also suffered a burst fracture in his back. He has also lost his sense of taste and smell.

“I enjoyed my work and I miss not being able to return to it,” the father-of-three’s victim impact statement read, “I don’t know what the future holds for me”.

John Elliot has also been unable to access significant physiotherapy due to lockdown, the court heard.

“Life is tough at home, because we have an autistic child and my partner is a full-time carer for him,” the victim impact statement added.

For her to try and juggle looking after me and looking after him is difficult. I was always the main person in the kitchen as I used to love cooking, but I am very limited in what I can do now. I am not able to help with our young lad, which is very important to both of us.

Guilty plea

The company pleaded guilty to five breaches under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (General Applications) Regulations 2007.

These relate to ensuring staff could carry out duties as reasonably practicable with regard to safety and welfare, and to ensure that suitable edge protection was in place for the site.

A separate charge centered around the lack of a risk assessment for this specific area of the factory. Another four alleged breaches were withdrawn by the HSA.

Defence barrister Kevin Byrne pointed to how Dawn Pork and Bacon “immediately” set about remedying the area where the accident occurred, which the HSA accepted, and Judge John O’Leary took that into account.

A turnstile is now used to transport the bins one at a time.

Judge O’Leary said it was crucial that the injury was not suffered due to a “deliberate” failing on the employer’s behalf, such as one motivated by profit before concluding the case.