Northern Ireland

Fine of £15,000 for Belfast firm over Rathfriland man's death

Downpatrick Street Image copyright Google Maps
Image caption AES Ltd had excavated contaminated soil to the rear of houses on Downpatrick Street in March 2016

A specialist environmental firm has been fined £15,000 over the death of a man on its excavation site in 2016.

Dennis Rodgers, 43, fell down a hole on the site in Rathfriland, County Down.

A post-mortem examination found the father-of-two had died from hypothermia and abrasions.

On Wednesday, Newry Crown Court heard Amalgamated Environmental Services (AES) Ltd had excavated contaminated soil at the rear of two houses in Downpatrick Street in March 2016.

Control barriers

A risk assessment had concluded residents, including Mr Rodgers, should be allowed to remain in their homes while the work was carried out.

A hole, 1.2 metres deep, was dug out and, having assessed site security, the east Belfast company erected "crowd control barriers" to stop people getting into the area from the street.

It also placed a block of timber at the rear doors of the two properties.

The site could be accessed from an alleyway which could only be accessed with a key, the court was told.

Mr Rodgers was last seen alive on 28 March and was found on 30 March in a pool of water which had gathered on the site.

The post-mortem examination indicted Mr Rodgers was "either mildly intoxicated or more intoxicated".

'Procedures followed'

A prosecuting lawyer told the court AES Ltd had pleaded guilty to failing to take all reasonably practical steps to ensure the health and safety of non-employees in that, although the barrier hindered entry, the site wasn't completely secure.

A defence lawyer said AES Ltd had been trading for more than 20 years and while its turnover for the past three years had been between £2m and £4m a year, it had operated at a loss in two of those financial years and made a profit of just £12,000 in one.

He said "all relevant statutory procedures were followed" and that Mr Rodgers had in been spoken to by an employee of the firm, who warned him of the dangers.

He added that the company, which has "a clear record and an excellent reputation", had changed its systems and improved communication in order to avoid the possibility of something similar happening again.

Imposing the fine, the judge said the "tragic loss" suffered by Mr Rodgers' family "is always something that the court has to treat as seriously as it deserves".

He added that "their degree of culpability would be described as moderate as opposed to extremely high".

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