Shipping company fined £15,000 for health and safety breach

Derry's Courthouse on Bishop Street. 3003JM66
Derry's Courthouse on Bishop Street. 3003JM66

A shipping company has been fined £15,000 for health and safety failures which led to three employees sustaining ‘significant’ injuries.

Burke Shipping Services Ltd, which is based at Lisahally Docks, was also ordered to pay costs of £800.

The company pleaded guilty to three health and safety breaches on August 20, last year.

Derry Crown Court heard that three employees sustained injuries after they fell 12 feet as they unloaded cement powder from a boat.

The normal procedure for the men to enter the hold of the ship involved them climbing down a ladder.

However, on this day the cargo was blocking the ladder and it was suggested to the men they use a basket lifted by a crane to get into the hold.

A short time later, the foreman called for a tea break and the three men got into a basket to lift them out of the hold.

On the way out of the hold, the basket tilted and the three men fell 12 feet onto the ship.

The court heard that one of the employees had 45 years experience as a docker, the second had 20 years and it was the third employee’s first day on the job.

An investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive N.I. and it found that the basket the employees were using was not suitable to be used in conjunction with a crane.

The court heard the three employees were taken to hospital for treatment and one of them remained there for eight days. He had a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a broken thumb.

A second employee sustained a fractured shoulder and a number of cracked ribs.

The third sustained two fractured vertebrae in his lower back.

Only one of the men has returned to work for the company following the accident.

Defence counsel, Mr. Aidan Harkin, said Burke Shipping services has been in business for 50 years and it is ‘the first time there has been an incident of this nature.’

He said the company takes health and safety ‘very seriously’ and the ship was incorrectly loaded on this day.

The barrister addedthe employees found themselves in an unusual position and ‘that is why it went wrong, it was human error.’

He told the court the company has learned its lesson from this incident and now has the correct equipment for employees if they find themselves in this position again.

Imposing the fine, Judge Gemma Loughran said: “One of the most important duties for employers is to ensure a safe place of work for employees.”

She said a breach of this duty can be ‘catastrophic’.

The judge accepted the company takes health and safety seriously but on this day there was a ‘serious failure to secure the health, safety and welfare of three employees’.