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Friday 28 April 2017

'I lost my best friend', says widow of worker crushed under 40 tonnes of cheese

Maria Ceremuga leaving the Coroner’s Court after the inquest. Photo: Collins
Maria Ceremuga leaving the Coroner’s Court after the inquest. Photo: Collins

A 32-year-old man died after he was crushed beneath 40 tonnes of cheese in a workplace accident.

Robert Ceremuga, from Littlepace View, Clonee, Dublin 15, suffered catastrophic injuries when a shelf rack collapsed on him at a cold storage warehouse where he worked in Finglas.

He died on November 28, 2013, after the rack he was standing next to became unstable and collapsed, an inquest into his death heard.

The accident happened in a cold storeroom at VP Foods, Jamestown Business Park.

Up to 80 tonnes of cheese were stored in pallets stacked in six bays on shelf racks measuring 15m long, the inquest was told.

A forklift driver was working in the storeroom and had removed between 30 and 40 pallets of cheese from the lower shelves that morning.

The driver had been working for the company only for a matter of weeks and had no formal forklift training, said health and safety inspector Frank Kerins.

He was sitting in the forklift when Mr Ceremuga entered the cold store with a clipboard and asked whether he had taken his break.

It was not clear if the forklift struck the shelf or if the racks buckled under the weight of the pallets stacked on the higher shelves, Mr Kerins said.

Mangled

"The whole thing started to sway and the pallets started coming down ... it was all top heavy," Mr Kerins said.

"Once it buckled, it was not able to take the weight. Forty pallets came down. The whole room was a mangled mess of pallets."

The forklift driver jumped out of the cab and ran from the room but Mr Ceremuga had no time to react, the court heard.

"It all came down very quickly," Mr Kerins said.

Garda Keith McGrath said Mr Ceremuga was found slumped against a wall in the storeroom.

"There was a huge volume of boxes scattered around the storeroom with shelving for pallets of cheese that had collapsed," he said.

Each pallet contained one tonne of cheese blocks weighing 25kg each, the inquest was told.

The cause of death was crush injuries to the head and chest, according to a post-mortem examination carried out by State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy.

Exceptional

The jury returned a verdict of industrial accident and recommended that forklift training be provided to all operators and that all racking systems should be emptied before any adjustments were made to them.

Mr Ceremuga's daughter was just four months old when he died, his wife Maria said in a statement through her solicitor, Kieran Johnston.

"She was his pride and joy. I lost my best friend and my entire world," she said.

"He was ambitious and hard working, he was an exceptional man.

"I think about him every day."

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