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Lawyer Urges Safety Improvements Following Cyanide Death Inquest

Jury Return Open Verdict At Hearing


Lawyers representing the devastated daughter of a man killed by exposure to Cyanide whilst at work have called for lessons to be learned at a leading Billingham chemical plant, following an inquest into the death.

At the inquest into the death of Steven Murtagh, 52, from Ingleby Barwick in Stockton on Tees, a jury returned an open verdict, meaning there was not enough evidence to determine the circumstances around Mr Murtagh’s death.

However, the cause of his death on 7th September 2009 was confirmed as Cyanide poisoning and his devastated daughter is calling for reassurances that safety protocols were up-to-scratch.

Keith Cundall, workplace injury and accident specialist at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, represented Mr Murtagh’s daughter Amy Murtagh, from Whalley Range, Manchester at the inquest.

Mr Cundall said there were unanswered questions surrounding the death and that an HSE report indicated that there could have been failings in safety procedures at the plant in the lead-up to Mr Murtagh’s death.

An investigation into the incident by the Health and Safety Executive revealed there was no damage to the gloves he was wearing and Cleveland Police ruled out any suspicious circumstances.

However, Keith Cundall said potential failings highlighted by the Health and Safety Executive in its investigation into the incident included:

  • Undergloves were not worn underneath the plastic gloves to further protect from any spillage.
  • No restrictions were given as to how long gloves, or any other item, could be safely used for and no time limit for wearing a single pair of gloves was specified.
  • No preferred method for putting on and removing gloves was in place. (HSE recommended that Lucite review this matter and introduce a standard practice to reduce exposure to harmful substances.)
  • Lucite’s Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) assessment was not fully compliant because it failed to discuss the issue of how long the supplied Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) would maintain a barrier to harmful substances.
  • In 2003 Lucite stopped carrying out personal monitoring on employees to measure exposure to Cyanide. Though this was discontinued due to consistently low levels, COSHH states that monitoring is requisite where the failure of controls could result in a serious health effect.

Mr Cundall said: “Mr Murtagh was a very experienced process engineer – he had worked at Lucite International for 25 years and there are several significant question marks around the circumstances of his tragic death.

“The open verdict at his inquest means many of these questions remain unanswered we are continuing to investigate the incident behalf of his daughter.

“Our client is seeking reassurances that industry-standard safety protocols were being followed at Lucite International and that her father’s safety was not needlessly compromised.

“Nothing we do can bring Mr Murtagh back, but we can aim to provide a crumb of comfort to his daughter if we can instigate improvements to safety procedures that will help ensure nothing like this ever happens to anybody else.”