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January 30, 2009

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Pair cleared of manslaughter after farm death

A father and son have been found guilty of health and safety offences but cleared of manslaughter after a teenager was crushed to death by an unguarded soil-sifting machine.

Lee Mason, 17, was working at Bridgwater Farm in Dundry near Bristol, which is owned by Roy Hill and managed by his son Michael Hill, when the incident occurred on 3 April 2007.

Mr Mason had been preparing top-soil by tipping earth into the hopper of the soil-sifting machine, which was missing its safety guard. He had used the machine before but had not received proper training and was left to operate the device unsupervised.

There were no witnesses to the accident but HSE inspector, Ann Linden, speculated that Mr Mason might have noticed a problem with the machine. She told SHP: “There is no proven reason why this accident happened but we believe that Mr Mason was trying to remove a blockage from the machine. His left arm became caught between the filter’s belt and roller and he was drawn into the machine until his neck was crushed against the framework.”

As a result of the accident the HSE issued the farm with an Improvement Notice, which ordered that the machine be withdrawn from use until a see-through safety guard had been installed to prevent access to its rear roller.

Both of the Hills appeared at Bristol Crown Court on 23 January and were cleared of manslaughter charges but found guilty of safety breaches. Roy Hill was found guilty of breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and admitted an offence under reg.3(4) of the MHSWR 1999. He was fined a total of £5000 and ordered to pay costs of £1500. Michael Hill was found guilty under s7 of the HSWA 1974 for failure to ensure the safety of a colleague, and was fined £2500 and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Roy Hill had previously been sentenced to three months in prison in 1996, after breaching asbestos regulations during demolition work in Bristol.

In mitigation, Roy Hill said that he had carried out the instructions of the Improvement Notice but offered no further comment. Michael Hill said that he deeply regretted the accident, and has subsequently employed an independent consultant for guidance on health and safety.

Inspector Linden said: “The death of Lee Mason could have been avoided if a few simple safety measures had been in place. A daily check by a responsible person would have ensured the guard was in place and Lee would not have died. Companies should have a system of regular checks of guards and other safety devices.

“Employees need to be well informed about risks and should be clear about who to tell, or what they should do, if they see a problem. This is especially important in a workplace where people do different jobs every day. In this case the guard was left off and nobody noticed or did anything about it.”

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