Nightclub owner admits safety breaches after employee crushed in lift shaft

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A Tallaght bar and nightclub owner will be sentenced next year for health and safety breaches that resulted in an employee being crushed to death in a lift shaft.

Employees and managers regularly used a goods-only lift to move between floors at The Blu Bar despite signs above the lift doors prohibiting people transport.

Kay Baxter, a Health and Safety Authority inspector, said that a barmaid had seen TBC Bar Ltd company director James Lambert (45) using the lift after he had told her not to get into it about five months before 31 year old Stephen Hampson was killed.

Lambert, of Castlelawns, Tallaght, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to failing to manage and conduct work activities to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees; as a consequence of which Stephen Hampson suffered personal injury and died on August 23, 2009.

He also pleaded guilty to recklessly placing the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk at the venue on the same date. He has no previous convictions.

Ms Baxter told Patrick Gageby SC, prosecuting, that a staff member found Mr Hampson after the lift failed to come up to his level when called. He heard something dripping and saw the deceased’s hand trapped in the lift shaft.

The father-of-two, who had been promoted to assistant bar manager, was declared dead shortly after emergency services arrived at the scene.

Ms Baxter said staff members would get into the lift in a crouch position as it was not designed to carry people. They would push buttons outside the lift to access different levels and then exit head first.

Ms Baxter added that during the subsequent health and safety investigation, some staff had said they noticed problems with the lift in the weeks prior to Mr Hampson’s death.

A consultant engineer’s report on the lift’s state revealed that its safety features had been tampered with and that the lift could move between some levels with its door open.

The report had found that the lift had not been in fit condition to transport goods at the time of the accident.

Ms Baxter told Mr Gageby that maintenance work had been carried out on the lift twice in the months before the fatality, but that it had been done by someone without the materials and tools required for the job.

Lambert admitted to health and safety inspectors that he used the lift on occasion and knew it was dangerous.

He said he’d been satisfied with prohibition signs around the lift and had made threats of sacking staff who used it.

Ms Baxter agreed with Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, that his client had no previous experience in the licensed trade.

She further agreed that Lambert hadn’t tried to distance himself from the day to day running of the business and admitted he had advised staff not to use the lift as manager and director.

Mr Higgins apologised “unequivocally” in court on his client’s behalf. He submitted that Lambert had nothing to do with overriding the lift’s safety features.

He asked the judge to take into account his client’s early guilty plea, which he submitted granted significant relief to the deceased’s widow and family.

He said his client, who now works in delivery, comes from a decent hard working family and had set up the bar and night club with others in 2006.

Mr O’Higgins told Judge Mary Ellen Ring that his client was “not a publican” and was out of his depth running this business. He further submitted that Lambert deserved “limited credit” for warning staff about the lift.

Counsel asked the judge to consider giving Lambert community service in lieu of the maximum two year jail term or €3 million fine.

Judge Ring acknowledged that “financial consequences pale in significance when talking about the death of someone” and added that a fine was not appropriate in this case given Lambert’s current position.

She adjourned sentencing until April next year pending a probation and welfare report.

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