Norbord Europe fined £2.1m for worker’s horrific death

Wood-based panels manufacturer Norbord, part of  Canadian group West Fraser, has been fined £2.15m for health and safety failings leading to the death of an employee.

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Perth Sheriff Court found Norbord Europe Limited guilty of two charges under health and safety legislation for the accident on July 12 2016 at the company’s site in Cowie, Stirlingshire.

The court heard that George Laird and three colleagues were involved in maintenance work on a wood drier, during which a high-pressure hose was used to remove hot ash from within a hot gas duct above a combustion chamber.

Laird, 64, who was in the area below the combustion chamber, was enveloped by hot water, steam and ash and sustained burns over 90% of his body. He died the next day.

The HSE investigation found evidence of a catalogue of failings by the company.

Evidence over the course of the trial showed the company had failed to provide a safe system of work for employees removing hot ash from the system and  they were left to devise their own methods of working.

Employees were exposed to risk of personal injury from falling ash within the combustion chamber since its installation at the site in 2014. There had been several near misses involving other employees working during that time.

Debbie Carroll, Assistant Procurator Fiscal and Head of the Health and Safety Investigation Unit, said: “This was a lengthy and complex case. The detailed evidence led against Norbord Europe Limited over the four-week trial allowed the jury to come to a unanimous verdict.

“The tragic death of George Laird could have been prevented had suitable and sufficient measures been put in place.

“The prosecution and the sentence serve to highlight that a failure to fulfil health and safety obligations can have tragic consequences and those responsible will be held to account for their failings.

“Our thoughts are with Mr Laird’s family at this difficult time.”

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Garry Miller said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to set up safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers to carry out the safe methods of working.

“If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the death of Mr Laird could have been prevented.”

 

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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