Belfast Telegraph

Poor safety 'factor in farm death'

A weary farmer drowned when he slipped and fell into a slurry pit that should have been better covered, a court has heard.

William McMillan's son and father carried out a desperate search through the six feet of slurry beneath a cattle shed when they realised he was missing last summer, Northern Ireland's senior coroner was told.

The body of the 43-year-old, who had been working alone in the shed above the pit while his son spread slurry on fields, was finally located by an ambulance service crew that rushed to scene in Dromore, Co Down.

His son Ryan, who described how he had sifted through the slurry with a steel crow bar in a bid to find him, said his father had been working very hard in the lead up to his death.

"I think my father was tired on the day of the incident and I put this down to long work hours," he said.

The accident at the Redhill Road property happened less than ten miles from where, three months later, three members of the Spence family, including Ulster Rugby star Nevin, died when they were overcome by slurry fumes at their family farm near Hillsborough.

An inspector from the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) told coroner John Leckey that there was evidence of slurry gas in the cattle shed above the pit, but he said he did not believe that caused Mr McMillan to fall in.

Inspector Dale Shirlow noted that a layer of slurry by-product had bubbled up through the slates and covered the floor of the shed in a slippy froth. "It was most likely that he slipped on the floor and fell into the tank," he said.

Pathologist Dr James Lyness found the cause of death as drowning. The expert said it was not possible to tell whether Mr McMillan had been overcome by poisonous fumes prior to entering the pit.

Finding Mr McMillan's cause of death as drowning after slipping and falling into the slurry pit, Mr Leckey passed on his condolences to the family. "Having been brought up on a farm I have a lot of sympathy for the plight of farmers in these difficult times and I find all these tragedies personally very upsetting," he said.

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