Death of Council employee (45) while tree-felling prompts call for guidelines

April 8th, 2016 8:06 PM

By Southern Star Team

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A JURY has recommended the introduction of statutory guidelines on the felling of trees following the death of a 45-year-old man who was killed when he was hit by a telegraph pole which snapped after a tree fell on the line. The incident happened  during a tree cutting operation for Cork County Council.

 The jury at Cork City Coroner’s Court returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of Council employee and father-of-three, Michael O’Donovan from Killeenleigh, Aghabullogue, who was fatally injured during tree clearing work at Carr’s Hill in Douglas, on November 23rd in 2012.

 The jury recommended the introduction of statutory guidelines on tree-felling similar to those that exist in the UK, including an exclusion zone twice the length of the tree, the use of tree felling equipment such as winches, ropes and a felling bar, as well as training of staff to control risk.

The inquest heard that Mr O’Donovan was working with another Council employee, foreman John Sexton, in clearing debris from trees that were being felled by another man, Pat Buttimer, who was working for a contractor hired by Council to clear a wayleave over a water pipe to Ringaskiddy.

 Mr Buttimer told the inquest that he had cut a notch in a sally tree and then used his back arm or ‘actor’ of a Terex digger to put some pressure on the tree so that it would fall in the right direction, but because it was near the road, he had to put the back actor pressure on the tree from an angle.

He said that Mr O’Donovan was standing at the front of the digger and he didn’t believe the tree could fall in his direction as the bucket of the digger was up against it, but while cutting the tree, he felt pressure on the tip of the chainsaw and realised the tree was starting to twist.

‘I saw Michael out of the corner of my eye. He was standing outside the fence looking down at the tree stump. He was not in a position where he would have been protected by the digger. After the tree fell, I heard John Sexton shout that Michael was on the ground,’ he said.

 Mr Sexton told the inquest that when he saw the tree starting to twist, he shouted at least three times to Mr O’Donovan to run out of the way but he couldn’t hear him because of the noise from both the chainsaw and the Terex digger.

‘The tree fell on the telephone cable and the pole snapped. The next thing I saw was that Michael was on the ground and he was bleeding,’ said Mr Sexton, adding that Mr O’Donovan, who wasn’t wearing his helmet, had ‘got a bang on the head from telegraph pole and part of it was lying by him.’

Pat Murphy, senior executive engineer with Cork County Council, said that, since Mr O’Donovan’s death, the Council has introduced changes so that no Cork County Council staff are involved in tree felling, and they have introduced UK statutory guidelines on tree felling for all contractors. Garda technical examiner, Garda Stephen Dennehy, said that he examined the scene after the accident and found blood in Mr O’Donovan’s woollen hat and it appeared that he had not been wearing his helmet when he was hit by the breaking pole which was approximately 20 feet long. 

The court heard that Mr O’Donovan was rushed to Cork University Hospital but died later from his injuries and a post-mortem revealed that he died from serious brain injuries due to blunt force trauma due to being hit on the head by a falling telegraph pole.

Sgt Fergus Twomey said that the accident had been the subject of a Health and Safety Authority investigation, which led to the prosecution of Cork County Council and the Council was fined €48,000 for a breach of health and safety regulations.

Cork City Coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, extended her sympathies to Mr O’Donovan’s widow, Yvonne. 

Ms O’Donovan’s solicitor, Vincent Toher, thanked Dr Cullinane and said his client hoped the jury’s recommendations would be implemented in full.

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