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BRIDGE WORKER DIED AFTER EXPOSURE TO TOLUENE

Deceased inhaled significant quantities of solvent vapour

It has been reported (21 December) by the Herald Scotland that Xervon Palmers Ltd has been fined £200,000 after a rail bridge worker was “gassed to death as a result of a catalogue of safety failings”.

Dundee Sheriff Court heard that David Rodger, aged 44, died on the Tay Rail Bridge where he was overcome by fumes and later found unconscious by colleagues  whilst working in a space on pier 44 of the bridge.

The company decided the space was not a “confined space” requiring protective clothing or equipment and ventilation. Mr Rodger was wearing a paper dust mask for protection rather than full breathing apparatus.

Severe neurological harm

It is reported that Deputy Fiscal Gavin Callahan told the court that the post-mortem determined the cause of death as being “toluene toxicity – meaning he had inhaled significant quantities of the chemical, which can cause severe neurological harm.” He said:

“It is conceivable that in his inadequately protected state he may have been affected by the toluene vapours sinking to the bottom of the pier leg where he waited for his colleagues to finish priming areas above him. The high residual levels some time after his death indicate his exposure must have been substantial. Toluene can cause confusion and affect judgement, which may explain his having commenced spraying without wearing his full face mask to do so.”

Peter Gray QC, defending, said:

“It is entirely accepted that this was a fundamental failure and it went to a senior level. That was not a deliberate failure or an act of recklessness. It wasn’t an issue that had been disregarded – quite the opposite. There had been careful consideration and discussion involving a number of people with health and safety experience who ultimately made an error.”

 

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