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September 16, 2011

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Farm fined £112,500 for harvester fatality

A farming partnership has admitted failing to carry out a risk assessment prior to maintenance work being carried out on a potato harvester, which resulted in a worker sustaining fatal crush injuries.

Keith Wannan, 34, was replacing rubber sleeves on the rollers of a potato harvester to prepare it for the new harvesting season at Foodie Farm in Foodieash, near Fife, on 6 September 2009. George Orr, one of the partners that owned the farm, GJ Orr of Foodieash, assisted him.

In order to replace the sleeves, the rollers had to be removed and then reinstated in the harvester. To help them re-install the rollers in the correct place, Orr powered up the harvester by connecting it to a tractor. He then left Mr Wannan to complete the job but, when he returned 90 minutes later, he found the worker trapped inside the rollers. The emergency services cut Mr Wannan free and transported him to hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The HSE’s investigation found that the guard on top of the rollers was open. It is believed that Mr Wannan was working on top of the machine and either fell, or accidently stepped through the gap. He was drawn through the rollers and crushed to death.

HSE inspector Peter Dodd told SHP that GJ Orr failed to carry out a risk assessment before starting the maintenance, which would have identified that the work should have been done when the harvester was isolated from a power source. The partnership was issued an Improvement Notice, which required it to undertake a risk assessment.

Inspector Dodd said: “Mr Wannan went to work that day fully expecting to come home safe – but, now, his partner and his family have to come to terms with their loss.

“If GJ Orr had taken simple steps to protect their employees by thinking about hazards and risks, putting measures in place to prevent their employees being able to come into contact with dangerous parts of the harvester, this incident would not have happened.”

GJ Orr appeared at Cupar Sheriff Court on 15 September and pleaded guilty to breaching s2 of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £112,500. No costs were awarded, as the case was heard in Scotland.

In mitigation, the company said it had no previous convictions and it complied with the Improvement Notice by acquiring the services of a health and safety consultancy to carry out a risk assessment. It also said it believed Mr Wannan knew how to conduct the task safely, as he had previously worked for the company that supplied the machine. But the company accepted it had failed to ensure he was properly trained and competent to do the work.

After the hearing, inspector Dodd added: “This case should act as a timely reminder to farmers of the very real dangers posed by their machinery when they are preparing it for harvesting, undertaking repairs or maintenance, or attempting to clear blockages.”

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