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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Quarry death was an accident, says jury

THE death of a machine operative who became trapped underneath a stone crushing machine at a Tynedale quarry was an accident, an inquest has heard.

The tragedy happened at Cemex’s Divet Hill Quarry at Great Bavington in February 2009 when 43-year-old Gary Ward failed to remove an isolator key to cut the power supply to the massive machine when he crawled underneath to check a fault.

A jury at the inquest, which took place in Hexham last Thursday heard the father-of-two, from Crook, County Durham, died of traumatic asphyxiation, when sudden “unintended movement” of one of the machines tracks caused the crusher to slip on its gravel base and fall on to him.

The incident led to a Health and Safety Executive investigation which, after extensive testing and a 71-page report, uncovered an electrical fault which had caused the movement.

Officials took the crusher to their lab in Buxton, Derbyshire, for examination.

HSE Inspector Paul Grady said some cabling on the machine had been “encased in detritus” and exposed electrical wires had touched the metal chassis, causing the right-hand track to move forward.

Witnesses said Mr Ward had suspected the Pegson Maxtrak 1000 crusher had a tail drum bearing problem and that the machine had never before been known to move while it was not being controlled by an operator.

Coroner for South Northumberland, Eric Armstrong, said Mr Ward would probably not have been killed if he had removed the isolator key.

Plant operator Geoffrey Rickelton, of Elsdon, was working nearby Mr Ward that day and told the inquest he heard him shout out as the crusher slid on to him.

“I put on the emergency stop but I couldn’t see Gary so I went to the rear,” Mr Rickelton said.

“Gary was under the machine lying face down.

“I tried to drag him out but his torso was pinned by the oil tank and I couldn’t.”

After attempts to dig Mr Ward out with hand shovels failed, a JCB was used to lift the crusher to free him.

Mr Rickelton told the hearing that he turned Mr Ward over but he was not breathing and there was no pulse.

A qualified fitter who regularly helped to repair and maintain the machines on site, Mr Ward, who was employed by his family firm, Durham-based Ward Bros Plant Hire Ltd, had completed his latest health and safety training only three days before the accident.

Summing up, Coroner Mr Armstrong directed the jury towards the verdicts of accident or misadventure.

He said: “We have a machine, it’s big and heavy, and the consequences of being stuck under that can only be horrendous.

“Mr Ward arguably should have ensured the machine couldn’t possibly move while he was under there.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that if the key had been taken out, Gary Ward almost certainly would have been with us today.

“My condolences and sympathy go out to his family and loved ones, who must have found losing him in an incident of this nature, extremely distressing.”

After more than 90 minutes’ deliberation the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

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