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Worker dies after being buried under tonnes of grain in transport firm accident

Harbour Road in Inverness
Harbour Road in Inverness

A transport firm has admitted safety failings which led to a 33-year-old driver dying under tonnes of grain at a depot in the Highland capital.

Turriff based Transpan Scotland Ltd did not take proper steps to ensure the safety of its staff unloading cargoes from vehicles at the premises in the Inverness’ Harbour Road.

Inverness Sheriff Court heard Andrew Harrald died on February 5, 2011 at Transpan’s Tore Mill Harbro depot

The court was told Mr Harrald got round a safety device fitted to his lorry, which enabled him to be in an unsafe position at the rear of his vehicle.

He sustained fatal injuries when he was buried under grain which suddenly poured from the tipper truck.

It was the second time one of the company’s workers had died in similar circumstances at the same plant.

The previous fatality involved a driver being buried in animal feed in 2006. There was no prosecution but a fatal accident inquiry was held.

Fiscal Geoffrey Mayne told Sheriff Margaret Neilson that an unauthorised bungee cord had been fitted to Mr Harrald’s lorry between February 5, 2009 and February 5, 2011 which enabled a driver to hold the tipper lever in the cab so that the body would continue to rise without the driver being in the vehicle.

Although there were no witnesses, Mr Harrald, from Alness, had gone to the rear of the vehicle while the tipper was rising and the doors flew open with the weight of its load of up to 10 tonnes.

Within seconds, Mr Harrald was knocked off his feet and swamped by the grain.

Mr Mayne added: “Other employees went to look for him. When they didn’t see him at the cab, they went to the rear of the vehicle and saw the load of grain.

“They used a shovel to clear it but he was found to be dead. The cause of death was chest and abdominal trauma and asphyxiation.

“The bungee cord used was not official equipment and appeared to have been fitted some time before. The company directors were unaware of it, but their mechanics were.

“It allowed employees to go to the danger zone at the rear of the vehicle as the tipper was rising. It is possible Mr Harrald had difficulty opening one of the locks, and then by the time he went to open the other as the tipper continued to rise, the weight of the grain moving caused the doors to burst open and he was swamped by the grain.”

After the first death, Transpan issued safety guidance to employees in a folder which they had to sign and confirm they had read and understood.

The fiscal said: “Mr Harrald had one but it had not been updated.

“There is evidence of a lack of supervision of employees at work and no effective monitoring that they were following safety procedures.

“The firm failed to ensure that their safety systems were being used by all employees at all times.”

Transpan’s counsel, advocate Susan Duff, said the family firm – which has 54 employees – had now introduced a strict safety regime and training programmes to “change attitudes and create a culture of safety”.

She added: “Warning signs have been posted at all their depots about the danger of going behind vehicles, and the manager’s office at Inverness has been moved so it overlooks the yard and he can challenge behaviour if necessary.

“A review of how safety information is given to employees has been carried out and they have been told a cavalier attitude towards safety will not be tolerated, treated as gross misconduct and result in dismissal.”

Sentence was deferred until May 15.

Mr Harrald’s sister Elizabeth Fountain, 35, from Alness, criticised the length of time it had taken for the case to come to court.

She said: “It has taken far too long, but it won’t bring him back.”

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