Lone worker suffers CO poisoning on pending demo site
Anchor Services (GB) Limited has been fined after a lone working security guard died as a result of inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from a petrol generator.
Arthur Ebirim, aged 45, was overcome by the gas on 28 October 2011 as he kept a night-time watch over a disused nursing home in Kent which was awaiting demolition.
Dartford Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Ebirim and colleagues were assigned to security at the nursing home since early August 2011.
The guards were initially stationed outside the building before moving into a lobby area inside as the weather became cooler. A petrol generator belonging to one of the workers was placed inside the lobby to provide a power source.
On the evening of 27 October Mr Ebirim was asked to guard the home alone because the usual night-time guard was unavailable. His wife raised the alarm that something was wrong when he failed to contact her at the end of his shift the following morning.
Company representatives went to the site but were unable to gain access to the office. The door was eventually broken down by the emergency services and Mr Ebirim was discovered slumped in a chair.
He was pronounced dead at the scene before a post-mortem later confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of death.
Generator designed for outdoor use
HSE investigators established that the only source of carbon monoxide in the room was the petrol generator. Tests revealed it was capable of producing fatal levels.
The generator was placed next to a door leading to a courtyard with a sign on the door stating: ‘When running the generator please keep this door open’. Generators of this kind are designed for outdoor use and should never be used indoors.
HSE inspectors found the generator was prone to run out of fuel in the early hours of the morning. Refilling in the dark posed an additional safety risk because there was a greater chance of spilling petrol and causing a fire.
The court was told that the defendant company failed to assess the risks posed by the generator and also failed to implement the company agreed lone working procedures.
Use petrol generators in well-ventilated areas
The company, formerly of Tanfield Road, Croydon, but now in the hands of Sutton-based liquidators Turpin Baker Armstrong, was found guilty in absentia of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £20,000, the maximum penalty available to Magistrates, and was ordered to pay a further £35,656 in costs.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe commented:
“This was a tragic and completely avoidable death that has devastated Mr Ebirim’s wife, family and friends. Their loss is made worse by the fact he was only covering the night shift as a one-off, but sadly never returned home.
The bottom line here is that the generator should not have been used inside the building, even with the door open. Petrol generators must only be used in a well-ventilated area because they are known to emit carbon monoxide.
The onus was on Anchor Services (GB) Limited to keep Mr EIbirim safe, but they failed to do so.”