Tullis Russell firm fined £260,000 over roofer's death

Image caption,
Thomas Sturrock fell to his death from the factory roof

A company has been fined £260,000 after a roofer fell to his death at its plant in Fife.

Thomas Sturrock fell about 50ft (15m) through an asbestos cement roof at Tullis Russell Papermaker Ltd's factory in Glenrothes in September 2008.

At the time, the 32-year-old, who was from Methil, had been carrying two bin bags filled with vegetation and debris.

At Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court, Sheriff James Williamson criticised the "amateurish" system of work.

However, he said he would have imposed a larger fine but feared this would lead the company to make redundancies, "bringing it to its knees".

Tullis Russell, based in Markinch, Fife, pleaded guilty on indictment to breaching the Health and Safety At Work Act by failing to provide a safe system of working that left employees placed in danger of serious injury and death between 3 September and 29 September 2008.

The court heard that the contractors who employed Mr Sturrock could still face prosecution over the incident.

Fiscal depute Issma Sultan told the court that the contractor had been brought in to clear 24.5 tons of vegetation from the fragile roof of the factory at Southfield Industrial Estate.

No harnesses

The contractor Mr Sturrock worked for had given the cheapest quote but the court heard an employee of Tullis Russell had failed to follow proper procedures when hiring them.

Pre-contract safety paperwork had not been filled in and workers were not wearing harnesses or ropes or using crawl boards to cross the fragile roof.

Bags filled with heavy debris were also left in piles on the roof.

Ms Sultan told the court that at midday on 29 September, 2008, Mr Sturrock had been walking with two filled bags of rubbish towards his brother-in-law, David Keillor, who was standing on the edge of the roof throwing bags into a skip below.

There was a sudden cracking sound and Mr Sturrock disappeared from view.

A worker at the plant heard the crash and saw Mr Sturrock lying on the ground surrounded by the bags and pieces of cement.

An ambulance was called but the roofer was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of massive head injuries.

Claire Bone, defending, said the incident had been caused by failures of the company - but not by directors of the business.

She said the building services manager had failed to inspect the work on a daily basis. He was later dismissed for gross misconduct.

Death 'tragic'

Sheriff James Williamson said: "It was the most amateurish piece of work. There are people clambering all over that roof with laden bin bags - it is appalling.

"If ever any operation was designed to endanger those conducting it, this was it."

However, he added: "Tullis Russell are a major employer in Fife and given the current economic circumstances it would be disastrous if this fine brought the company to its knees.

"I'm concerned that a fine of a higher order would lead to redundancies."

Chris Parr, group chief executive of Tullis Russell, said: "The death of Thomas Sturrock was a tragedy and we reiterate our condolences to his family and friends."

He said the company had instigated a review of the management of contractors and would do everything they could to prevent such an incident happening again.

HSE inspector Mac Young said Mr Sturrock "may not have died" if Tullis Russell had ensured his safety.

He said: "Tullis Russell Papermakers had a duty to ensure the safety of everyone on their site - whether working directly for them or not."

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