AN inquest into the death of a German contractor in the Corrib Gas Tunnel in 2013 has returned a verdict of death due to a work place accident.
The inquest into the death of Lars Wagner (26) originally from Hohberg-Diersburg, Germany, heard that Mr Wagner suffered fatal head injuries when he was struck on the head by a pipe that collapsed in a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) on September 8, 2013.
The jury took less than ten minutes to return the verdict at Ballina District Court.
Shell E&P Ireland Limited was the client for the project and the onshore pipeline was in the final phase of the Corrib Gas Project when the accident occurred.
Mr Wagner was employed by Herrenknecht AG who manufactured the Tunnel Boring Machine. Shell E&P Ireland had contracted a joint venture for the project, BAM Civil Ltd and Wayss & Freytag. This was highlighted as a possible issue surrounding the fatal accident. Coroner Eleanor Fitzgerald said it did seem that there had been a ‘breakdown of communication’ on the day the accident took place.
Last year Wayss & Freytag were fined €300,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of health and safety legislation leading to the death of the hydraulics technician.
The company were charged with failing to stop work on the TBM while Mr Wagner cleaned an oil spill in a chamber. Charges against Bam Civil Limited were withdrawn.
The inquest heard that on the morning of the accident, day shift foreman Rene Pagel Hanf and night shift foreman Norbert Schuck discussed the oil spillage in the gear chamber. Pagel Hanf told technician Victor Stukert and Mr Wagner they should clean up the spillage.
Mr Hanf wasn’t aware of any maintenance work that Mr Wagner was conducting on the day of the accident but knew that the previous day he had been, as this work was conducted during planned stoppages of the TBM.
Mr Wagner was the first technician to go into the TBM the morning of the accident. Other technicians Dirk Morgenstern and Victor Stukert arrived into the TBM 20 minutes later.
Mr Hanf was in the control cabin to observe the instrumentation and saw a light flashing indicating a problem with a valve that was not opening or closing correctly. A call was then received to inform him that there was a problem with the bentonite in and out pipes. The inflow pipe was buckled upwards and a bracket holding the pipe onto a trailer was severely bent. All the lights were off on the control panel and the pressure reading was at 8bar, a reading which is normally at 6bar. Mr Hanf had thought about opening the bypass valve but he could not remember if he did.
A short time later a loud noise and a jolt was heard and bentonite was visible on the walls of the tunnel and had come from a pipe connection. Dirk Morgenstern entered the gear chamber a time later and found Mr Wagner in 20 to 30cm of bentonite. He shouted for help and pressed the emergency stop button. The inlet pipe had collapsed and most likely struck him in the back of the head.
Dr Tomas Nemeth, Consultant State Pathologist at Mayo University Hospital, told the inquest that the cause of death was a fatal traumatic head injury. The coroner noted that the death of Mr Wagner was a ‘shocking occurrence’ and said the machine should not have been running. After returning their verdict, the jury also recommended that in future when a Tunnel Boring Machine is in operation work should stop immediately if there is any fault, pressure change, or warning light.