Belfast Telegraph

Death of farmer in slurry tank was preventable

By John Mulgrew

More than 500 farms have been inspected by the Heath and Safety Executive following a spate of deaths in the last two years, an inquest into the drowning of a farmer in his slurry pit has heard.

The court heard that William McMillan’s death “could have been prevented” if safety covers on the slurry tank had been in place.

The 43-year-old was discovered in the farm’s slurry pit in Dromore in June last year.

Yesterday an inquest into his death heard he had “drowned in the slurry” and it was likely he had slipped before falling into one of the tank’s access points.

The inquest also heard that safety covers normally in place over six of the 6ft deep tank’s mixing points had not been in place at the time of his death.

Although there would also have been a degree of gas from the pit present in the shed, it is not believed it contributed to his death.

In an emotional scene, Mr McMillan’s teenage son Ryan recounted the last moments of his father’s life leading up to his tragic death. After returning to the shed and unable to find his father or able to reach him by mobile, he went to get his grandfather to search for him.

The pair then used a number of items in an attempt to search through the slurry pit, but were unsuccessful.

Mr McMillan’s body was then discovered by emergency crews who arrived on the scene a short time later. It’s thought he had been in the tank for at least 30 minutes.

Yesterday coroner John Leckey said he had been concerned with the high number of inquests that he presided over during the last year, regarding similar farming deaths. He also made reference to the upcoming inquests into the equally tragic deaths of Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence and his father and brother at a slurry pit on the family farm in Co Down.

The court heard that during the course of 2012 there were 12 farm related deaths in Northern Ireland.

A letter from the Health and Safety Executive to coroner John Leckey was read out in court which highlighted the ongoing work the organisation had been doing in order to help prevent the large number of farming deaths over the last two years.

Background

There have been a high number of deaths on farms over the last two years, many of those dying as a result of falling into slurry tanks. In 2011 and 2012 there were 12 deaths each year — a number which has concerned both the Health and Safety Executive and a senior coroner. The issue was brought to the public’s attention with the deaths of three members of the Spence family at a farm close to Hillsborough — which included Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence.

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