A manager at an international tobacco manufacturer tried desperately to free an employee who was crushed to death in an accident, an inquest has heard.
Trevor Allen, 63, became trapped by the neck under a heavy robotic arm which collapsed at a plant in Northern Ireland owned by Japan Tobacco International (JTI), Gallaher’s in Co Antrim.
Irreversible brain damage happened within three or four minutes, the state pathologist has told the coroner’s court.
Andrew Gribben said his top priority was to release the married engineer before calling for medical help. Five minutes later he phoned the factory nurse, rather than the emergency services.
Mr Gribben told the dead man’s son: “I am not medically trained, but my reading of the situation was that your father was in chronic danger due to the pressure of the robot arm. My number one priority was to get the robot arm off him and get him released.”
Mr Allen was breathing and his pulse was relatively normal when he was first examined by a paramedic but he had suffered fatal brain damage.
The manager added: “For all of us this is still a very emotional event within the factory.”
The victim, from Sand Road in Galgorm, worked at the Ballymena manufacturer for over 30 years. Gallaher’s was taken over in 2007 by JTI.
Mr Allen was about to begin repair work on the equipment when part of it fell on top of him in July 2011. He was trapped between the robotic arm and a scaffolding bar beneath him. He ended up lying partly on the ground but with his arms draped over the scaffolding, which was used to allow access to fix screws on the machinery.
The accident happened when some preparatory work had taken place, but they were waiting for a colleague experienced in the procedure to join them, as none of the men there had done the work before.
State pathologist Professor Jack Crane has told jurors at the Belfast inquest that his death occurred because the flow of oxygen to his brain would have been interrupted, rapidly causing irreversible damage.
Mr Gribben said: “I looked in to see if there was any response, his eyes were open but there was no recognition.
“I was speaking to him, trying for a response, and I saw that he was listless and unresponsive.”
He and a colleague tried to lift the arm, which weighed around 250kg and had fallen about a metre, but it would not budge. The witness fetched a hammer and hit a pin in the scaffolding bar to try to release it. They also tried standing on the bar to bend it away from the victim, but none of their efforts succeeded.
A colleague has already told the jury he found it relatively easy to remove the pin and bar, but Mr Gribben said by then somebody had released the other end of the metal pole.
Members of the dead man’s family have questioned his treatment at the scene and why the emergency services were not contacted sooner.
Mr Gribben said: “I decided to follow our normal protocol in the knowledge that Joanne (Prenter, the factory nurse) would know maybe quicker ways of getting medical assistance to the factory, she would have more contacts, more options.
“She would have to be rung anyway, it was my belief that she was the right person to coordinate the provision of medical staff.”