‘Safety failings’ led to worksite death

Belfast Old Town Hall
Belfast Old Town Hall

The failure of vital safety features on a scissor lift machine contributed to the death of a Belfast engineer in 2008, an inquest has heard.

Gareth Keys of Victoria Road had been carrying out post-hire checks on the machine when it elevated beyond its 6.7-metre safe height limit without stabilisers and toppled over.

The 27-year-old father-of-two suffered a fractured spine and other major injuries and died at the Royal Victoria Hospital shortly after the incident on May 16.

At the inquest in Belfast yesterday, the coroner Mr Jim Kitson and jury heard a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) principal investigator, Nancy Henry, explain the machine’s defects – discovered when she examined it at the Highway Plant Company premises in Dunmurry on the day of the tragedy.

Ms Henry said a safety cut-out switch should have activated when it was extended above the safe height limit.

However, the HSE expert also claimed Mr Keys failed to carry out his own important safety checks on the equipment, using external controls, prior to getting on to the platform close to the boundary wall of the work site.

Dramatic CCTV footage of the actual incident was shown to the jury as Ms Henry explained the dangers of extending the lift on its wheels only. She also pointed out that Mr Keys was able to drive the machine while it was in such an elevated position due to a related defect in its safety system.

“The drive function should not work when the platform is elevated above 6.7 metres, Ms Henry said.

Referring directly to the CCTV images, the HSE expert added: “As it moves forward, it starts to overturn.”

Mr Keys’ father, mother and former partner were in court when the CCTV footage showed the engineer carrying out a series of checks before the machine suddenly topples over the boundary wall – the extended lift coming to rest with Mr Keys trapped between the platform and a concrete channel carrying a small stream adjacent to the premises.

The parents of Mr Keys had unsuccessfully sought legal aid to fund a barrister – and to investigate a possible link between their son’s death and other fatalities involving scissor lift platforms.

According to the Legal Services Commission, legal aid is only made available for interested parties at inquests if there is “a significant wider public interest in the applicant being represented at the inquest” or if “funded representation is likely to be necessary to enable the coroner to investigate the case effectively and establish the facts”.

The inquest is due to resume this morning when the managing director of the Dunmurry plant hire firm, David Houston, will give evidence.

Possible link to other accidents

The Keys family’s solicitor, Sam Creighton, recently highlighted a possible link between Gareth Keys’ death and similar incidents worldwide.

He said: “There have been altogether five deaths in similar circumstances.

“All of these deaths have been on certainly if not identical then very similar equipment, all of the deaths have involved service engineers, which is what the deceased is.”