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16.12.2015

Judge highlights platform complacency

Judge Donagh McDonagh of the Cork Circuit Criminal Court highlighted the sloppy operation of aerial lifts operating in the city’s streets.

Speaking during the sentencing of University College Cork, for the 2013 fatality, of Frank McGrath, 58, who was run over by a boom lift in the College grounds, he said: “I am repeatedly shocked at the complacent manner in which cherry-pickers are used on the streets of Cork City. Even today I have passed some of them some of them working in the street with no protective fence to keep members of the public away”.

I have even seen a seven year old child sitting on the arm of one such vehicle, which had been left unattended with the engine running! What this highlights is how complacent we have become with machines. A few hundred yards from the courthouse, here on Washington Street, safety in all its aspects are completely disregarded from the public’s point of view”.

Moving on to the case before him, he said:
“In fairness to University College Cork, their exemplary safety record, and their approach to this unfortunate affair, I have put the fines for the health and safety breaches in this case at the lower end of the scale”.

The college had earlier pleaded guilty to two breaches highlighted in the prosecution brought by the Health & Safety Authority.

Commenting the case, the judge said: “There is no doubt that UCC failed to carry out a complete risk assessment. If they did, it they failed to write it up in a safety statement in relation to the movement of vehicles across campus. The accident was all the more tragic because Mr McGrath seemed to be carrying out a safety function at the time”.

“It is not for the court to consider what momentary lapse of attention led to his demise. The two operators - McGrath on the ground and his colleague in the platform - had the safety of other persons in mind. These two crimes fall at the least serious end of the spectrum. They are a systems failure of a less gross nature.”

The college was fined €80,000 plus €4,000 costs.

Vertikal Comment

There is a great deal of truth in what the judge says, we receive dozens of photographs a week of people using aerial work platforms in an unsafe manner, both on the streets and on private sites. It speaks volumes for the safety of this type of aerial work platforms that the number of accidents are not very substantially higher.

Sadly those in the industry who try to point out the risks, when they see bad practice in action, are treated very shabbily and often with aggression. Other times a company will use heavy handed tactics to shut down those who highlight such incidents. We ourselves are frequently threatened for publishing such information.

It is about time that all that energy is put into working more safely, than trying to shoot the messengers. Perhaps it’s time for associations like IPAF to stand up and get tougher with any members or non-members who do not take this subject seriously? The aviation industry has an open and mature approach to near misses, accidents and bad practice – so we have an excellent and well tested example to follow.

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