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March 18, 2014

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Horse breeder fined after trainee vet suffers life-changing injuries


A Shropshire horse breeder has been prosecuted for safety failings after a veterinary student suffered severe leg and pelvic injuries when she was felled by four straw bales on her last day of work experience. 

The 20-year-old was collecting hay for the horses when she was struck by four falling straw bales, weighing more than 1.2 tonnes, which toppled from a nearby five and a half-metre stack. She suffered multiple injuries and was wheelchair bound for three months. 

The student from Cheshire was on a work experience placement at leading independent stud farm, RL Matson & Son of Whitchurch, Shropshire, run by partner Edward Matson.

An HSE investigation found the incident at Mr Matson’s stud business on 5 August 2012 could have been avoided if the straw bales had been stacked stably without risk of collapse, and suitable systems used.

Shrewsbury Magistrates’ Court heard on 14 March that on being struck by falling bales, two of the fallen bales came to rest on top of each other in front of her right foot. One pinned down her left foot and the fourth straddled the fallen front and rear bales, pushing her torso forward by 45 degrees.

The bale on her back had to be removed using a telehandler and the one pinning back her left leg had to be cut into pieces and removed by hand, because she was in so much pain.

Her right leg was in a cast and needed metal rods fixed to the bone to hold it in place. Her left leg was put in traction and for a period of time couldn’t bear weight and an artery in her thigh had been so badly stretched it was close to rupturing.

Her pelvis was broken in six places and the left side had to have permanent metal pins inserted in it to make it load-bearing again. Her ankle was also badly broken and complications have resulted in further operations and may mean she needs an ankle replacement in the future.

The veterinary student spent three months in a wheelchair and had physiotherapy so she could walk again, but her mobility has been severely affected, impacting on her veterinary studies. She is still unable to crouch or kneel and struggles to bend.

Edward Matson, 48, Twemlow’s Stud Farm, Whitchurch, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,114 after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector Marie-Louise Riley-Roberts, said: “This incident had devastating consequences and a young woman was lucky not to have lost her life. As it is, she has been left with life-changing injuries and impairments that could affect her chosen career.

“This incident could have been easily prevented had Mr Matson, an experienced horse breeder, made simple and adequate provisions to protect employees and non-employees working alongside stacks of straw bales.

“The risks from materials falling at height are clear, and there are necessary procedures for the safe management, storage and maintenance of bales in stacks.

“There was a substantial and fundamental failing in not storing the bales in a way so they would not collapse or move unintentionally.”

HSE records show that since 2000, 18 deaths have been recorded as a result of being struck by falling bales in agriculture. This figure does not include those caused by being struck by a bale falling from a mechanical handler.

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