'Matthew's Law' call

Unite demands stronger safety laws after electrician Matthew Campbell's death in storm

Reading time: 4 min

The importance of the 2024 IWMD theme, Climate Crisis and Workers Health, was brought home on Tuesday (March 26) after a court fined a company and council £50k following the death of a Unite member in a storm.

Matthew Campbell was an electrical engineer working for Lagan Construction Ltd with a colleague at a forest park when Storm Ali caused winds in excess of 90mph to batter Northern Ireland on September 19, 2018.

Matthew and his supervisor Steven McCauley had been working on a kiosk in the Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Co Armagh, as the weather deteriorated. They had initially left the site, but returned to make the kiosk safe, when a 200-year-old beech tree was blown over by the storm force winds, killing Matthew and severely injuring Steven.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Lagan both admitted health and safety failings, and both had received weather warnings from the Met Office before the tragedy.

Judge Ramsey said, “It’s important to note that the storm was expected to increase in strength as time went on, rather than decrease, as some storms often do,” adding that “the yellow warning for Wednesday was updated further to amber… warning of flying debris, potentially causing risk to life and probable damage to buildings.”

Unite welcomed the judgement and fine but maintains there are still questions to answer and more needs to be done to protect workers from extreme weather events in the future.

Matthew’s death during Storm Ali has highlighted the need for health and safety legislation to be strengthened as extreme weather events increase amid the climate emergency.

Matthew was a member of Unite, and the union has been supporting his family in their quest for justice after his death. Unite has challenged the failure of the Health and Safety Executive NI to investigate the incident. 

Unite is also calling for the introduction of specific health and safety legislation — ‘Matthew’s Law’ —  to protect workers in extreme weather events, as current law is inadequate, and rarely enforced.

Unite regional secretary Susan Fitzgerald has remained in close contact with the family since Matthew’s death.

Commenting, she said, “Today’s sentence is the closest that the family of Matthew Campbell has been able to come to obtaining any accountability for the loss of their son. Matthew’s death is a horrific loss and could have been avoided — he should never have been sent out to work in a forest in the middle of an extreme weather event.

 “Unite will be taking forward our campaign for new legislation to protect workers’ health and safety in extreme weather events. With climate change these are becoming increasingly common and we cannot continue to have institutional failure when it comes to the protection of workers.”

Stay tuned on UniteLive for more on this story in our International Workers’ Memorial Day series next month.

By Keith Hatch