A 29-year-old worker died after being exposed to toxic gases while maintaining a farm’s anaerobic digestion plant, a court has been told.
Dorchester Crown Court heard that Matthew Pitt and colleague David Bartlett were engulfed by poisonous hydrogen sulphide gas after opening the digester tank’s roof.
Mr Bartlett had then regained consciousness, the court heard, but could get no response from Mr Pitt who was lying next to him. He tragically died without regaining consciousness.
The farm accident happened in June 2009 at Lowbrook Farm in Blandford Forum, Dorset.
The farm is owned by Clifford Owen Yeatman while the anaerobic digestion plant they were working on was developed by Biogas Nord UK, of which Mr Yeatman was sole director.
As director of Biogas Nord UK, Mr Yeatman was fined £15,000 after admitting two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act. And as a partner of CO and RA Yeatman he was fined £45,000 after pleading guilty to two further breaches of the same act.
His firm, Farmergy Ltd, of Lowbrook Farm, was fined £10,000 after it admitted breaching the act. Mr Yeatman and Farmergy Ltd were also ordered to share the payment of £75,000 in costs.
‘Risks weren’t assessed’
The court heard that after Mr Bartlett raised the alarm two paramedics and a pair of other farmworkers were also affected by the fumes from the tank.
The court was told a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation concluded that Mr Yeatman and Biogas Nord UK had failed to assess the risks posed by both the plant in general and the opening of its roof.
Although opening the tank’s roof, the HSE said, was a specialist job for which the workers had not been trained, it had been carried out on four previous occasions by people working for Mr Yeatman since March 2009.
Had the plant been working properly, the court was told, the roof – which was not designed for routine removal – should only have had to be opened on rare occasions.
Source: Health and Safety Executive
Date Published: February 27, 2015
Author: Jonathan Brown