HSE fined €500,000 after paramedic fell to his death
THE HSE was aware of safety defects on ambulance doors before a paramedic fell out to his death – but it refused an offer to fix the problem.
It has now been fined €500,000 for health and safety breaches which led to the death of paramedic and father of six Simon Sexton (43).
He died in June 2010 when he was wrenched out of the moving ambulance by the door as a patient was being transferred from Cavan to Dublin.
Many people wept in court as Mr Sexton's widow, Catherine, described the effect of his death on their six children.
She said she found letters under her seven-year-old daughter's bed which were addressed to her father, telling him how she loved him and wanted him to come back home.
His sister said the HSE never approached Mr Sexton's parents to explain how their son died.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring said: "A fine doesn't reflect the seriousness of (the case). No fine can ever restore Simon Sexton."
The safety breaches revolved around the presence of "suicide doors" on the side of the ambulance. These are doors with hinges at the rear, meaning that they can get caught in the slipstream if opened while the ambulance is moving.
The HSE was in the process of ordering new ambulances with the same suicide doors. The manufacturers offered to alter the doors at no extra cost so the hinges were at the front but the HSE rejected the offer.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that the HSE was aware of the risk after a similar incident occurred in Kerry in 2007. This incident resulted in a paramedic suffering serious head injuries. The court heard safety recommendations were made subsequently but were not implemented by the HSE.
Helen Sexton said her family were very proud of her brother, who had signed up to be a paramedic while also running the family farm.
"We find it hard to believe there was not a single visit by the HSE to our parents to explain how Simon died," she told the court. "There was no acknowledgement of our grief.
"It wouldn't have brought Simon back but it might have brought some understanding of what happened."
The family was forced to rent out the farm and put their elderly parents in a home as Mr Sexton was no longer living next door to care for them.
His widow added: "I was the luckiest woman in the world. We had a wonderful past and a bright future, raising our six beautiful children."
The HSE pleaded guilty to failing to have a written assessment of the risks to the health and welfare of an employee relating to the rear-hinge side door of an ambulance on June 3, 2010, at Dr Steevens' Hospital, Dublin 8. It also admitted failing to ensure employees had adequate training in the operation of the rear doors.
Health and Safety Authority (HSA) inspector John Sheeran said that after the 2007 incident the HSE hired an engineer to make safety recommendations. He advised warning signs be placed in the vehicle, that an improved door alarm system be installed and that a visual alarm should be mounted to indicate an open door.
The court heard only some of these recommendations were implemented on Mr Sexton's ambulance. Warning signs were put in place and an improved door alarm was installed, but it is not clear if it was working on the day of his death.
Mr Sexton was in the back of the ambulance when he heard the wind coming into the vehicle indicating the door was not shut properly. When he put his hand on the lever, the door opened and "wrenched him out". He suffered serious head injuries and died shortly afterwards.
The court heard that since the 2010 incident all ambulances have been altered to include front facing hinges along with several other safety measures.