Glasgow & West Scotland

Crushed farmer Thomas Neil was 'lax' about safety

A farmer who was crushed to death by his 40-year-old tractor may have lived if he had replaced the ageing vehicle, a fatal accident inquiry has found.

Thomas Neil, 64, died of asphyxia after he became trapped between the tractor and a metal gate at Shiel Farm in Sorn, East Ayrshire, on 4 December last year.

The inquiry found the tractor had defective brakes and Mr Neil was "lax" in his attention to personal safety.

The tractor was scrapped in the weeks after the tragedy.

The fatal accident inquiry took place before Sheriff Desmond Leslie at Ayr Sheriff Court.

Farm shed

In his written judgement, Sheriff Leslie said he noted that Mr Neil had been working with his son-in-law Craig Douglas on the day of his death attaching doors to a farm shed.

When Mr Douglas later returned home he put away his tools and began speaking with a neighbour Alan McKay.

Mr Neil, who ran his farm business A&M Neil in partnership with his brother John, had remained in the shed to work with cattle there.

Mr McKay then left to find Mr Neil in the shed but returned about a minute later shouting for help.

Both men then returned to the shed where Mr Neil had been working and found him trapped between the rear of a tractor and a metal gate.

The tractor had its engine running but did not appear to have its gears engaged.

Mr Neil's brother was called and he managed to move the tractor forward to release his brother, but attempts made to revive Mr Neil failed.

Sheriff Leslie said: "The sad and premature death of Mr Neil was a consequence of his lax attention to his personal safety combined with his operation of an inadequately maintained tractor with a defective and inefficient braking system.

'Braking malfunction'

"His death is a reminder of the need to recognise the hazards associated with agricultural machinery in particular and industrial machinery in general.

"The Massey Ferguson tractor which Mr Neil used had a limited purpose around the farm. His mechanical appreciation of the mechanical idiosyncrasies of the machine was insufficient to avoid the accident."

Sheriff Leslie said that although Mr Neil would have been aware of how the tractor performed and "developed techniques to counteract the braking failures", these were "no substitute for proper maintenance".

He added: "Unless the tractor had been subject to regular mechanical servicing and renewal which would have addressed the braking malfunction, the vehicle should have been disused."

Mr Neil's brother scrapped the tractor after a prohibition notice, which deemed the tractor was dangerous, was served upon him in the weeks after the tragedy.

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