Firm fined £15,000 over the death of a man who fell into a hole they had dug

Newry Crown Court heard that east Belfast firm Amalgamated Environmental Services Ltd had been contracted by the NI Housing Executive to excavate contaminated soil at the rear of two houses on Downpatrick Street in Rathfriland in March 2016.

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

He told the court 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 the two properties.

The site could also be accessed from an alleyway but that the alleyways could only be accessed with a key.

Mr Rodgers, he told the court, “was last seen alive on 28 March and was tragically found on 30 March in a pool of water which had gathered in the excavation site.”

“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,” said Mr McCollum.

A post mortem examination was conducted and it found Mr Rodgers, a 43-year-old father of two, had died from hypothermia along with a number of abrasions which were consistent with him having fallen into the hole.

The examination also indicted that the unfortunate Mr Rodgers was “either mildly intoxicated or more intoxicated,” said Mr McCollum.

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 told the court that no matter the position of the firm, “one acknowledges that there is a bereaved family here.”

He outlined how AES ltd had been trading for over 20 years, had almost 40 employees with one active and two non-executive directors and while their turnover for the last three years had been between £2-4 million each year, it had operated at a loss in two and made a profit of £12,000 in only one of those financial years.

He added that the company had changed their 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 were 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,” adding that from the victim impact statements “it’s perfectly clear that this was a tragic loss.”

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