Firm at fault for worker killed by potato harvester fined £112,000

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By Kevin Duguid

The company was fined £112,000 following the death of Keith Wannan

A FARMING company has been fined more than £112,000 after a worker was crushed to death between the rollers of a potato harvester.

Tragic Keith Wannan’s arms and legs were caught in the machinery and he could only be freed once the harvester was dismantled.

His employers, GJ Orr, have now been fined £122,500 after pleading guilty to breaching health and safety rules.

Keith, 34, was flown to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee where he died following the accident at Foodie Farm, near Cupar, Fife.

Safety officials said that if his employers had taken “simple steps” Keith’s death would have been avoided.

He was killed as he was replacing rubber sleeves on the rollers of the potato harvester to prepare it for the new harvesting season on September 6, 2009.

Cupar Sheriff Court heard that to replace the sleeves, the rollers needed to be removed and reinstated in the harvester.

On the morning of the tragedy one of the firm’s partners, George Orr, was helping Keith put the rollers in the correct place.

Mr Orr turned on power to the harvester using the controls of the tractor to which it was attached at the time. He then left Keith to complete the work.

But when Mr Orr returned around an hour and a half later, he saw the tractor was running but could not see Keith.

As he got closer he realised his employee was trapped between the rollers.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation found GJ Orr had not conducted a proper assessment of the risks involved in carrying out maintenance and testing work on the potato harvester.

The company should have identified the risk of exposure to dangerous moving parts.

The investigation also found that there was no safe system of work in place for maintenance to be carried out.

Mr Wannan died after becoming trapped in the rollers of a potato harvester

There were no measures to prevent lone workers gaining access to moving parts of the harvester when the guarding was removed and the power was not isolated.

HSE Inspector Peter 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.

“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.”

In 2003 another Fife farm worker died after being pulled into a potato harvester.

And in 2007 a 41-year-old worker suffered a serious arm injury when he got trapped near Arbroath.

GJ Orr had previously pleaded guilty at a previous hearing at Cupar Sheriff Court to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

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