Firm fined after Tay Rail Bridge worker gassed to death

The Tay Rail Bridge .  Picture : Ian Rutherford
The Tay Rail Bridge . Picture : Ian Rutherford
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A firm has been fined £200,000 after a railway bridge worker was gassed to death as a result of a catalogue of safety failings.

David Rodger died on the Tay Rail Bridge on the same day his firm were handed a health and safety award for their work on the structure.

He was working on the stripping and repainting of the bridge support piers in January 2010 when he was overcome by fumes and later found unconscious by colleagues who went searching for him.

Dundee Sheriff Court heard Mr Rodger, then aged 44, of Cowdenbeath, Fife, had been working in a space on pier 44 of the bridge, which connects Dundee to north-east Fife.

Bosses had decided the area he was working in was not a “confined space” under health and safety legislation - meaning he was not given the correct protective clothing or equipment and no proper ventilation or extraction machinery was in place.

At the time of his death Mr Rodger - survived by his wife, and two children - was wearing just a paper dust mask for protection rather than full breathing apparatus which should have been in place.

There was also no monitoring of oxygen levels in the area, as well as inadequate supervision and a lack of rescue facilities in the event of an accident.

Xervon Palmers Ltd – who were at the time known as Thyssenkripp Palmers Ltd – today admitted health and safety breaches that led to Mr Rodger’s death.

Fiscal depute Gavin Callahan told the court that a post-mortem examination had determined Mr Rodger’s cause of death as being toluene toxicity, meaning he had inhaled significant quantities of the chemical which can cause severe neurological harm.

He said: “While it may never be known for certain why he was only wearing a dust mask, it is most likely that he had been wearing this under his air fed blast helmet, but removed the helmet when he used an air line to blow down dust.

“If he had done this, the dust mask that would be worn beneath the blast helmet would have been his only protection.

“It is conceivable that in this inadequately protected state he may have been affected by the toluene vapours sinking to the bottom of the pier leg where he waited for his colleagues to finish priming areas above him.”

Xervon Palmers Ltd, based in Belvedere, Kent, pleaded guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety At Work Act committed between 1 May 2009 and 28 January 2010 at the Tay Rail Bridge.