Companies admit safety breaches that led to deaths of bridge workers

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The cage in which the men were working being recovered from the River Shannon at Thomond Bridge.

TWO companies have pleaded guilty at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court to breaching safety laws which led to the deaths of two stonemasons who drowned while carrying out work on a bridge in Limerick City six years ago.

Father-of-two Tim ‘TJ’ O’Herlihy, 36, from Castleisland, Co. Kerry, died alongside his workmate, Bryan Whelan, 29, from O’Briensbridge, Co. Clare, after they were trapped under the River Shannon on August 29, 2015.

They were working from a cage-like platform that was suspended over the side of Thomond Bridge and held by a wire attached to a winch-crane, when the platform plunged into the river.

Mr O’Herlihy and Mr Whelan, who were both wearing life jackets and harnessed into the cage, were unable to get out of the structure and died under water.

Paul Murphy, 26, from Askeaton, Co. Limerick, who was working alongside Mr Herlihy and Mr Whelan on the platform, managed to escape and was rescued by emergency first responders.

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Following investigations by Gardaí as well as the Health and Safety Authority, criminal charges were brought against Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd of Dock Road, Limerick, as well as Palfinger Ireland Limited, registered at Church Hill, Cloncollog, Tullamore, Co. Offaly.

Representatives from both companies pleaded guilty to breaching the Health, Welfare and Safety at Work Act, which led to the deaths Mr O’Herlihy and Mr Whelan.

The late Bryan Whelan’s brother John Paul, and parents Margaret and John at the Limerick Coroner’s Court Limerick.

The court heard that Palfinger supplied the crane, fitted with a winch, to Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd (formerly known as Cussen and Co Crane Hire Limited), at its premises at Dock Road, Limerick, on March 12, 2003.

Palfinger Ireland Director Luke Carbery admitted that they failed to take steps that were neccessary to ensure that Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd was provided with adequate information about the use for which the crane and winch had been designed or tested, and about conditions relating to the crane and winch so as to ensure that, when in use, it would be safe and without risk to health, and that it failed to provide any or any adequate information about the carrying out of a functional test of the winch-crane’s safety overload protection systems.

Brendan Rainsford, representing Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd, admitted that on August 29, 2015, at Thomond Bridge, Limerick, it, being an employer, failed to ensure as reasonably practicable, that contracted workers were not exposed to risks to their safety, health and welfare.

Nationwide admitted it failed to ensure the winch crane which was mounted on a lorry, provided and operated by Nationwide for the purpose of lifting persons in a man-basket over the River Shannon to carry out work on Thomond Bridge on the day, was in a safe condition, and, in particular, that the overload protection safety device on the winch of the crane was defective and did not operate to protect the wire rope on the winch from being overloaded, thus being in breach of section 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, “and as a consequence TJ O’Herlihy and Bryan Whelan suffered personal injury and died”.

Prosecuting Senior Counsel, Shane Costelloe, described it as a “tragic incident where two men lost their lives and a third was swept out along the river Shannon to the ocean before being rescued”.

Members of the late TJ O’Herlihy’s family leaving Limerick Coroner’s Court

Mr Costelloe said that the sentencing hearing will take a number of hours “to talk the court through what went wrong on the day”, and to hear victim impact statements from the families of both victims.

Paul Murphy is also expected to provide a statement at the sentencing hearing on the impact the incident and death of his co-workers has had on him.

Mr Costelloe said the State would be producing the crane as an exhibit for the court to inspect at the sentencing hearing.

“We will produce the crane, it will be brought here to the court, it’s currently in Cahir, Co Tipperary.”

Judge Tom O’Donnell said he would inspect the crane before passing sentence.

The O’Herlihy and Whelan families, along with Paul Murphy and his wife were in court to hear the guilty pleas, and they did not comment afterwards.

Speaking outside the court last December after a date was fixed for a trial, Bryan Whelan’s parents John and Margaret Whelan, through their solicitor Rachael O’Shaughnessy, HOMS Assist, said: “We have waited more than six years to get answers as to why our 29-year old son died tragically in a workplace accident, at Thomond Bridge, in August 2015.

“We have suffered immeasurable grief, and it has been heartbreaking. However, we hope that today brings us one step closure to gaining closure,” they added.

The sentencing hearing will be held in Limerick on July 27.