Whitburn treatment plant cleared of blame over engineer's tragic death

Bosses at a water treatment plant have been cleared of any blame after an engineer was crushed to death by a machine he was trying to repair.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 7:00 am
Crushed: Matt Price

Matt Price, 63, was trapped between a handrail on a giant revolving scraper in sewage works and a metal fence at Veolia's Whitburn wastewater treatment plant.

His friend and colleague Colin Buchanan, 50, discovered his body lying at the side of a circular tank, a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) at Livingston Sheriff Court was told.

Workmates attempted CPR but Matt was pronounced dead in an ambulance called to the scene. The official cause of death was 'chest trauma and mechanical asphyxia'.

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Sheriff Peter Hammond has now ruled his death could not have been avoided but said Matt should have implemented an 'isolation procedure' before placing himself inside the tank.

In evidence, Mr Buchanan told how he left Matt in the site office to walk round taking test samples and checking that the machinery was working properly.

During his inspection tour he noticed that a tyre had come half off a metal drive wheel which powered the circular ‘bridge’ sweeper assembly around Final Settlement Tank Number 2.

He reported the issue to a manager who issued a work order for Matt to replace the tyre.

Mr Buchanan said: “The way he was lying I thought it was just part of the job. Then I saw he was actually trapped.

“He was in gap between the stanchion and the bridge itself. He was laying over the middle railing with the handrail of the bridge applying pressure to him.

“He was trapped between the bridge and the stanchion. Both his arms were through the fence and he was leaning through.

“His chest was where it caught him, both ribs. He was limp. His face was a purple colour.

“I hit the emergency stop button to stop the drive and tried to pull the bridge back, but I couldn’t pull it back myself.”

The sheriff made no criticism of Veolia's working practices and said any changes are for the industry to consider themselves.

Matt had been wearing a hard hat and hi-viz jacket while he carried out the work on the tank.

Sheriff Hammond, in a written determination, stated: "Having regard to the factors referred to and the fact that no accident of this kind is known to have occurred in the period of nearly 50 years since the tanks were commissioned at Whitburn in 1972, and at other sites around the country, I am of the opinion that the criticisms of Veolia’s safe system of work are not well founded.

"I am satisfied that they were adequate and that Veolia have complied with the obligations upon them in that regard.

"I agree with the Crown that whether any changes or improvements in any area discussed in the course of the Inquiry should be made are matters for Veolia or others in that industry."

The sheriff added: "May I join the representatives of the parties at this inquiry in expressing my condolences to the family of Mr Price for their sad loss as a result of this tragic accident.

"He was clearly a very highly regarded maintenance technician who was valued and respected by both his employers and his colleagues."

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