Omagh farmer Elkin fined £1,000 after boy collapsed working with slurry
A 14-year-old was put in an induced coma after being overcome by fumes pumping slurry at a farm, a court has heard.
The teenager, who had been working as part of a summer job, was found unconscious in a tractor in August last year.
Omagh dairy farmer Charles Elkin (66) was yesterday fined £1,000 for breaching health and safety regulations.
The case prompted Judge Neil Rafferty QC to call on farmers to recognise that they were involved in the "most dynamic and dangerous of industries".
The Dungannon Crown Court judge added: "The message really has to go out to the farming community.
"The time has come where we need to be aware that farming is a dangerous industry and that care has to be taken to prevent future generations making our mistakes."
Judge Rafferty said the fault in Elkin's case arose from leaving his son in charge of the slurry stirring along with the 14-year-old who "did not know or was aware of the dangers".
However, he added that Elkin was a man with no record, who had led an absolutely blameless life until he admitted failing to maintain safe conditions on his Mullagharn Road farm near Omagh. On top of the fine, he was ordered to pay costs of just under £1,400.
Prosecution barrister Michael McAleer had told the court that Elkin's son had offered the teenager, who had been looking for a summer job, work on the farm.
While the farmer was away at a local mart his son and the boy were engaged in stirring and pumping slurry from an underground tank.
However, the teenager was left in a tractor to monitor proceedings and was to turn the engine off if it began to overheat. When Elkin's son returned he found the boy unconscious.
Mr McAleer said the boy, who was put into an induced coma for 24 hours, reported "feeling dizzy and nothing else".
Defence barrister Ian Turkington said while the farmer was not aware the boy was involved in the mixing and pumping of the slurry, "he takes overall responsibility" for the running of his farm and what occurred and that the youngster's employment "was not driven by profit or in an effort to cut corners".
Echoing the judge, HSENI inspector Anne Cassidy said the dangers were well-known.
"Far too many fatal incidents have occurred over recent years involving slurry mixing," she said.
"Following the slurry mixing code can prevent accidents and save lives. Once mixing starts everyone should get out and stay out for at least 30 minutes.
"The farmer failed to follow the accepted advice, placing a young and inexperienced employee at significant risk from exposure to the potentially deadly gas produced during mixing.
"This incident was easily preventable."
by Michael Donnelly