Father of retired Limerick footballer crushed to death by ‘unsafe’ automatic steel gate

Health and Safety Authority warns about dangers of automatic gates at coroner’s court

The father of retired Limerick star footballer Seamus O’Carroll was “crushed” to death when an “unsafe” automatic steel gate, weighing one-metric tonne, shut on him as he tried to enter his workplace.

A warning about the potential dangers of automatic gates was raised by Helen McCarthy, an inspector with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), who investigated the circumstances surrounding James “Jim” O’Carroll’s death, as she gave evidence at his inquest, held at Limerick Coroner’s Court on Wednesday.

Mr O’Carroll’s son, Seamus, who recently retired from the Limerick senior football team, and who is a garda based in Dublin city, excused himself from the court as evidence of his father’s fatal injuries were read into the record by Limerick coroner John McNamara.

James O’Carroll (52) was employed by Limerick City and County Council for more than 20 years and worked as a road sweeper out of a machinery yard operated by the council in Newcastle West.


Access to the yard was controlled by an automatic steel gate, measuring six metres wide by four metres high and weighing one metric tonne.

As Mr O’Connell was usually the first person into the yard every morning he would activate the automatic gate by ringing a number from his mobile phone. The gate could also be activated by a key fob. He would then place a wooden plank in front of a single sensor located on the inside of the gate to break the sensor, so the gate would remain open for his colleagues.

Ms McCarthy said she discovered this practice was “commonplace for many years” at the yard.

On April 14th, 2015, Mr O’Carroll arrived at the yard and tried to enter the access gate on his bicycle, but, as he went to grab the wooden plank, the gate suddenly closed on him smashing his rib cage and shoulders, and he died at the scene. The fatal incident was captured on CCTV cameras at the yard.

Ms McCarthy said she determined that the council was operating an “unsafe” gate, as “the automatic gate had only one sensor inside the gate, and there was none on the outside wall which could have prevented this accident as it would have detected his [Mr O’Carroll’s] presence”.

She said the gate did not have a “leading-edge protection” system “to detect an obstruction in its path, and, again, this could have prevented the accident”.

She said she prepared a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions, which subsequently brought criminal proceedings against the council that were heard before Limerick Circuit Criminal Court in November 2021.

The council was convicted of breaches of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act and fined €75,000 after it pleaded guilty to three charges arising out of Mr O’Carroll’s death, including failure to provide employees with safe access to the yard.

Ms McCarthy said she could not determine the actual reason for the gate closing on Mr O’Carroll, however it was possible his own mobile phone had reactivated the gate “when he put the phone back into his pocket”.

“It was unfortunately an accident waiting to happen,” she said.

Ms McCarthy also outlined that, at the time, it was possible to activate the gate “from anywhere in the world, an inch away, a mile away, a million miles away”. One did not have to be standing near the gate to open and close it: “As long as there was a signal and the mobile number was registered to the place, you could be in Timbuktu and you could activate the gate.

“The safest mode of operation would be to have a hold-to-run fob system, which means that you are literally standing in front of the gate and you point your fob at the gate and you have to hold your finger on the fob in order to keep it open. But the problem is that in today’s society, nobody wants to wait, we want to have instant access.”

A postmortem on Mr O’Carroll’s remains found that his death was “due to cardiac respiratory failure secondary to blunt injury to the chest”.

The jury recorded a unanimous verdict of “misadventure”.