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Kildare meat factory fined €400,000 over workplace death

Alexandru Coceban died after he was struck by a forklift at the company’s factory in Kildare town.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

A KILDARE MEAT processor has been fined €400,000 after being convicted in relation to the death of a worker after being hit by a forklift truck on a factory floor four years ago.

The fine was imposed on Kildare Chilling Company at Naas Circuit Criminal Court after the firm had pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure the safety of staff in the workplace under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

The offence arose from a prosecution by the Health and Safety Authority following the death of Alexandru Coceban (22) after he was struck by a forklift at the company’s factory on Old Dublin Road, Kildare Town on 15 February, 2018.

Mr Coceban, a Moldovan national was killed on the day he was due to receive his first wage packet having started work in the meat plant just over a week earlier.

In her ruling, Judge Mary O’Malley Costello said Mr Coceban’s death was “a most dreadful incident” which resulted from the company’s failure to provide a safe route for pedestrians on the factory floor of the Kildare plant.

The court heard evidence that the company had failed to operate a designated pedestrian route on the factory floor as well as crossing points and warning signs, while it did not require staff to wear high-viz jackets.

The judge remarked that it was hard to see how such particular dangers were missed as there was an obligation on the company to ensure the safety of its staff in the workplace.

She said employees like the victim were engaged in hard work in difficult conditions in the blood decanting shed at the plant.

She noted Mr Coceban had to move to another part of the factory to get some drinking water.

The judge said a number of factors and shortcomings including the lack of drinking water in the victim’s immediate work area and the fact that sunlight was in the eyes of the forklift driver all contributed to the fatal incident.

She accepted evidence that workers at the factory were careful and that the company had a good safety record and engaged fully with the HSA as well as not disregarding workplace risk on purpose.

Judge O’Malley Costello also acknowledged the remorse shown by the company’s directors and their reaction to the death of Mr Coceban.

The court heard that Kildare Chilling Company, the oldest independent meat processor in the Republic, engaged in regular health and safety training for staff, including instruction in different languages and had made significant efforts to remedy its failings to ensure such a fatality does not happen again.

The judge also praised the family-run firm for its support for Mr Coceban’s family including the funding of the repatriation of his body to Moldova and its “correct and proportionate” response in dealing with legal claims.

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She fixed a headline fine for the offence at €800,000 which prompted one of the company’s directors to react: “Good Jesus”.

Taking mitigating factors into account, however, Judge O’Malley Costello said she believed the appropriate fine was €400,000.

She noted the court had not been provided with any financial information that would indicate the unlimited company would have difficulty in paying such a sum.

The judge said it would not be disproportionate to impose a substantial fine given the circumstances of the case, although she acknowledged there was no “egregious” breach of the legislation.

Following a brief adjournment, counsel for Kildare Chilling Company, Ronan Kenney SC, said his client had not expected a fine of such magnitude but it accepted the court’s ruling.

The judge granted the company’s request to be allowed a period of two years to pay the fine.

Judge O’Malley Costello also ordered Kildare Chilling Company to pay the HSA’s costs of €3,908.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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