A Co Tyrone judge today (Tuesday) called on farmers to recognise that they were involved in the ‘most dynamic and dangerous of industries’, and must realise the past ways of operating, once “thought safe enough are not safe enough”.
Judge Neil Rafferty QC made the comments as he fined 66-year-old Omagh dairy farmer Charles Elkin £1,000 for breaching Health and Safety regulations after a teenager had to be hospitalised when overcome by fumes while pumping slurry in August last year.
The Dungannon Crown Court judge added that the “message really has to go out to the farming community the time has come where we need to be aware that farming is a dangerous industry and that care has to be taken to prevent future generations making our mistakes”.
Judge Rafferty said the fault in Elkin’s case arose from leaving his son in charge of the ‘slurry stirring’ along with a 14-year-old who “did not know or was aware of the dangers”.
However, he added that Elkin was a man with no record, who had led an absolutely blameless life until his admitted failing to maintain safe conditions on his Mullagharn Road farm. In addition to the fine, he was also ordered to pay costs of just under £1,400.
Echoing Judge Rafferty, HSENI Inspector Anne Cassidy, said later that the dangers were well known in the arming industry, and this particular incident could easily have been avoided if the published safe system of work had been followed.
“Too many fatal incidents have occurred over recent years involving slurry mixing. Following the slurry mixing code can prevent incidents and save lives. Once mixing starts everyone should get out and stay out for at least 30 minutes,” she added.
“In this case the farmer failed to follow the accepted advice, placing a young and inexperienced employee at significant risk from exposure to the potentially deadly gas produced during mixing. This incident was easily preventable.”
Prosecution barrister Michael McAleer had told the court that Mr Elkin’s son had offered the teenager, who’d been looking for a summer job, work on the family farm. On August 1, 2016, the farmer was away at a local mart and was unaware of the incident.
His son and the teenager were engaged in stirring and pumping slurry from an underground tank. However, the 14-year-old was left in a tractor to monitor proceedings and was to turn the engine off if it began to over heat. When Elkin jr returned he found the teenager unconscious.
Mr McAleer said the teenager, who was put into an induced coma for 24 hours later reported “feeling dizzy and nothing else”.
Defence barrister Ian Turkinton said while the farmer was not aware the teenager was involved in the mixing and pumping of the slurry, “he takes overall responsibility” for the running of his farm and what occurred and that the youngster’s employment ‘was not driven by profit or in an effort to cut corners’.
Mr Turkinton said his client, a man of good character, who deeply regretted his appearence in court, did not run a lavish farm, but was a man trying to do the best for his family.