Limerick farmer fined after contractor dies from fall on site

Kilmallock District Court

A COURT heard how a tragic fall claimed the life of a well respected local contractor from a County Limerick village.

Pat Cotter from Rockhill, County Limerick, met his death in a fall from the roof of an extension to a farm building he was working on on December 13, 2022.

Judge Patricia Harney was hearing evidence in Kilmallock District Court on the accident and the health and safety investigation which ensued.

Brian Coleman, the owner of the farm at Lacknagrour, Bruree, where the tragedy happened, was before the court pleading guilty to a charge under the Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulation 2013.

Jen Ryan, an inspector with the Health and Safety Authority, gave evidence of visiting the site of the fatal accident hours after it happened.

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Ms Ryan told the court that the scene had been preserved and she saw “a partially completed roof” on an extension to an agricultural outbuilding and a sheet of aluminium close to the spot where the deceased fell.

She told Judge Harney that she made on-site measurements and found that there was a 7.2-meter drop from the top of the building to the floor.

An autopsy report revealed that Mr Cotter – who was in his late 50 – died from injuries incurred in the fall, the court heard.

Ms Ryan said she interviewed Mr Coleman at the farm on the day, took a statement and served him with a prohibition notice to prevent any further work being carried out at a height on the site.

She said that the charge which Mr Coleman faced in court was that he had failed in his responsibility “as there is an onus on the client, if there is an aggravated risk involved, to hire a project supervisor” to ensure all health and safety measures are being taken.

She agreed with Mr Coleman’s solicitor that the dairy farmer had co-operated fully with the investigation.

The farmer pleaded guilty to Section 6(1)(b) of the Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2013, contrary to section 77(2)(c) and Section 80(1) of the Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Act 2005, regarding the duties of the client in appointing in writing a competent project supervisor for the construction stage of the project.

The solicitor told the court that at the very outset that “I’m instructed by Mr Coleman and his family to extend their deepest condolences to Mr Cotter’s family. He is a 42-year-old single man and he is absolutely devastated that this happened”.

Mr Coleman’s sister and brother were in court to support him.

Inspector Gearoid Thompson told the court that the late Mr Cotter was “a very well-known local contractor” who had carried out extensive work in the area and was much loved and respected.

The legal representative said that the tragedy is one which haunts his client and the whole family on a daily basis.

The penalties for breaching the legislation allow for a fine of €5,000 against Mr Coleman or 12 months in jail.

Judge Harney added her “deepest condolences on this terrible tragedy” and said that “whatever I do will not bring Mr Cotter back”.

She fined Mr Coleman €2,500 and awarded legal costs of €1,845 against him.