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Families Of Two Men Killed In Industrial Incident Call For Improvements In Workplace Health And Safety

Devastated Relatives Speak About Their Ordeal Following Three Week Inquest


By Suzanne Rutter

The devastated relatives of two men who were killed when they were dragged into an industrial machine say tougher regulation of the manufacturing industry is needed to prevent other families losing loved ones so tragically following an inquest into their deaths.

Thomas Elmer, 27, and 25-year-old James Bibby, died on 7 December 2010 while working for the wooden fibre board manufacturing company Sonae Industria (UK) in Knowsley, Merseyside, during the firm’s regular ‘shut down’ day where essential repairs were carried out on its machinery.

The mechanical contractors were employed by Haslingden-based firm Metso UK, which specialises in the maintenance of industrial machinery, to work at Sonae and were repairing a worn piece of equipment on an industrial conveyor which moved wood chips into a storage silo.

On the day they died, the conveyor moved unexpectedly and dragged them into the machine. The machine should have been isolated from the power supply before any work was undertaken and this was a safeguard detailed on the Permit to Work issued to the men before work started. The permit was completed by staff supervising the men and it confirmed that isolation procedures were in place.

Specialist workplace injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell represented Thomas’ parents, Ann and David Elmer, his sister Rosie plus Beverley Bibby, James’ mother, in their battle for answers at an inquest at Bootle Town Hall this week. Together they called for improvements to safety at work after the coroner was critical of how the risk assessments were handled.

Mr Sumner, the Coroner for Merseyside, directed the Jury to consider a narrative verdict which said that although risk assessments into the isolation of machinery had been undertaken by Sonae, the recommended safeguards were not carried out and the men were not informed of the risks they faced.

Keith Cundall, a specialist serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office represents both families and said valuable lessons needed to be learnt about the importance of health and safety in the workplace.

“The families of Thomas Elmer and James Bibby have been left distraught by their loss and they understandably wanted answers about the circumstances surrounding their tragic deaths. The inquest was the first step in helping them understand why their loved ones died and if anything could have been done by their employers to protect them from harm,” he said.

“We welcome the coroner’s verdict and hope this case is a stark reminder to other businesses about the potentially devastating consequences accidents at work can have on people’s lives. One of the worrying points in this case is that it appears that risk assessments were carried out – but they weren’t shared with the workers who lost their lives and the necessary safeguards to protect them weren’t put in place, despite being identified in advance.

“We have repeatedly called for improvements to safety at work and we will continue to work with James and Thomas’ families on a civil claim, as well working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to investigate this incident further and to get them the justice they deserve.”

The inquest heard that James and Thomas were working together to repair a worn sprocket on an industrial chain conveyor which moved wood chips into a large storage silo.
The coroner confirmed that the men died from multiple injuries.

Following the inquest James’ mum Beverley Bibby, from Rossendale, said: “We still miss James every day and find it hard to accept he has been taken from us in such awful circumstances.

“Since we lost him our main focus has been on finding out who or what was responsible for his death. We also want assurances that steps will be taken by those responsible to prevent similar tragedies happening again in future so other families don’t have to go through the same heartbreak as we have.

“Nothing will bring him back or make up for the huge loss we feel but we hope now the inquest is over it will raise awareness about how important health and safety in the workplace is so employees are as better protected in future.”

Thomas’ mum Ann, also from Rossendale, added: “Everyone should be able to go to work without the fear of being injured or killed.

“The inquest was one of the significant hurdles we knew we would have to endure because we desperately needed to know what happened to Thomas and why. The inquest was a major ordeal for all of us and we are relieved it’s now over so we can finally start to piece our lives back together and remember Thomas as the lovely young man he was.

“I just hope all employers learn from this to ensure they keep their workers safe."

If you have lost a loved one due to an accident at work, our serious injury compensation solicitors could help you claim compensation to help get the answers you deserve. For more information visit our fatal accident claims or workplace accident claims page.