TWO COMPANIES have been fined following an incident where a security officer died after being found lying face down and hypothermic, in deep snow, at a remote hillside in Ayrshire.
Ayr Sheriff Court heard that, just after midnight on 22 January 2018, Ronald Alexander, a 74-year-old security officer employed by Corporate Service Management Limited, was found by Police Scotland’s Mountain Rescue Team at Afton Windfarm, a remote site near New Cumnock. Alexander died later that day having never regained consciousness.
Corporate Service Management Limited was contracted by Northstone (NI) Limited, who trade as Farrans, to provide security for this site. Following a site visit by the managing director and operations director of Corporate Service Management Limited, it was agreed that two security officers would be required because it was known that mobile phone signals offsite are very poor.
Around lunchtime on 21 January, and as forecasted, the weather deteriorated, resulting in deep snow drifts on the road to the site from New Cumnock, and the road between the gatehouse where Alexander worked and the site compound where his colleague was stationed. Although mobile phone communications were known to be poor and inconsistent at the site there was no landline. Two-way radios were available, but these could only be used for the officers to speak with each other and not offsite.
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) investigation into Alexander’s death found that, when preparing their emergency weather plan, Northstone (NI) Ltd had failed to include those times when nobody from the company would be present at the site.
The company also failed to ensure there was a back-up generator at either of the security officer’s locations to ensure that their welfare area would have heating and lighting should the main generator fail, despite this having occurred on several occasions previously. Northstone (NI) Ltd did not ensure that Alexander or his colleague had a reliable means of calling for help.
At around 5.00 pm, Alexander’s colleague managed to obtain a signal on his mobile phone and reported to Corporate Service Management Limited’s Control Room that not only had the generator failed, but that the only means of transporting the men offsite, specifically a 4×4 vehicle, had become trapped in the deep snow at the site compound. Despite this, Corporate Service Management Limited did not call the Emergency Services until after 9.00 pm.
Corporate Service Management Limited’s emergency plan relied on there being effective communication between the security officers and the Control Room. However, the company failed to provide this or to make sure that Northstone (NI) Ltd had provided this at the site.
Northstone (NI) Limited of Kingsway, Dunmurry in Belfast pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and was fined £768,000.
Corporate Service Management Limited, based at MacLellan Street in Glasgow, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and was fined £100,800.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Gerard Muir said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided had either company ensured that a suitable assessment had been made of the risk to those working at the site in poor weather, that suitable and sufficient means had been provided for the officers to communicate offsite and that back-up generators had been provided, particularly when it was known how often the main generator had failed. By simply carrying out these correct control measures and ensuring safe working practices at the site, this tragic event could have been avoided.”
By way of a warning, Muir noted: “Companies should be aware that the HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those who fall below the required standards.”