Father raised his concerns days before tragedy
The father of a 19 year old who died alongside his colleague at Drummonds grainstore in Knockbridge told an inquest this morning (Tuesday) how he raised concerns about his son's lack of training just days before the double tragedy in August 2009.
Terry Brennan (19) of Knockcorr, Knockbridge, and Paul Farrell (35) Cherrywood Park, Tallanstown, died while they were working in an elevator pit on August 10 2009.
An inquest into the deaths of the two men at Dundalk court heard from John Joseph Brennan, father of Terry, that he spoke to the plant manager, David Reilly, on August 7th 2009, and raised concerns about Terry's working hours but especially his lack of training, in particular with machinery and low loaders.
Mr. Brennan recalled he had said to Mr. Reilly; 'You're expecting too much of our Terry' to which he said the plant manager had replied 'He's well fit for it.'
The inquest heard from an investigator appointed by the HSA that tests were conducted in the elevator pit following the two deaths.
Air readings were taken at various heights in the pit, but on the floor, where the bodies of the men had been discovered, the oxygen levels were reading at just 1% and the carbon dioxide levels 29%, levels which the inquest heard would have been fatal for anyone exposed to them.
The inquest was told how the company has since put in place extensive safety measures following the double tragedy.
The two men were working in an area known as the elevator pit when they got into difficulty.
The inquest was told safety measures for anyone working in the pit, including a 10 minute oxygen supply pack, that now exist, were not in place at the time.
Dundalk Fire Bridage officer, Corina McGeown, who was the first emergency responder to the scene told how she went down into the pit wearing full breathing apparatus.
She said both men were lying on the ground. Just one, who she now knew to be Paul Farrell, had a basic dust mask on. Terry Brennan had no mask at all.
She said such masks would not have afforded any protection against the conditions they were found in.
She told of beginning to use a ventilator device on Paul Farrell, while also doing chest compressions. At the same time Terry Brennan was being lifted up out of the pit.
The inquest heard from manager David Reilly how the tragic events unfolded that morning.
He had attempted to contact Paul Farrell several times by phone, and Terry Brennan, and checked around the plant before he noticed they were both in the elevator pit.
He told of going down into the pit to try and rescue the men. He held his breath, while first lifting Terry Brennan on to his shoulder to hoist him up.
But he recalled the teenagers boot had caught in the ladder and he wasn't able to lift him. He said he knew he had to get help, so he climbed up out of the pit, and fell to his knees with dizziness. He banged on the window of the office, and shouted for an ambulance to be called.
He also called to FAS workers who were working on the road outside the plant to help him. They got straps and tried to lift the two men up. Mr. Reilly went back into the pit again to try and assist with lifting, but he was forced out again by the lack of oxygen.
He said he began vomiting and had chest pains. 'I thought at the time I was having a heart attack, but I know now it was breathing in carbon dioxide.'
Barrister Eamon Coffey, representing the Farrell and Brennan families asked Mr. Reilly who was responsible for health and safety on the site, to which he replied 'I am'.
He was asked why there had been no safety system in place in relation to working in an elevator pit.
Mr. Reilly said that it had never been pointed out to him that it was a confined space. He admitted that it was an enclosed area, with no windows or ventilation, the only means of entry and exit being a ladder which led to a hatch.
He told the inquest that before this incident, and in the years since, such levels of C02 had never been recorded in an elevator pit, anywhere in the industry in Ireland or the UK.
'I am here myself today to find out why this happened.'
He was asked if he accepted that there were obligations on employers to provide a safe place of work for employees, to which he replied 'Yes.'
The plant did not open for five weeks, but in September, one month after the double tragedy, Mr. Reilly said he received 'confined space' training which he admitted was 'very relevant.'
The plant manager described the 'permit to work' safety system that is currently in place, including a gas monitor and alarm which is dropped into the pit one hour before anyone is permitted to enter.
He told how this records C02 levels. It is dropped in again a half hour before entry, and immediately before going into the pit. All readings are recorded.
A harness is also attached, and a winch in case the person needs to be pulled up in the event of an emergency. Crucial to the new safety systems is a ten minute oxygen supply pack attached to everyone going into the pit.
Mr. Reilly was asked about the training given to employees before the tragic incident in 2009, and asked if he recalled Terry Brennan's father raising concerns about the lack of training his son had received and the long hours he was being asked to work. Mr. Reilly said he did not recall these issues being raised in the conversation, but admitted that the teenager would occasionally have worked from 8.30a.m right through until 9pm, or later if it were harvest season. On one occasion he stayed behind to lock up, and could have been there until almost 11pm.
The inquest also heard from Pathologist Dr. John Ryan who carried out post mortems on both men.
He said it was extraordinarily difficult ' if not impossible' to determine the level of Co2 in a persons blood at the time of death, adding that he relied on HSA reports for history.
Dr. Ryan concluded the cause of death in both cases was asphyxiation, resulting from lack of oxygen combined with exposure to carbon dioxide.