An Aberdeenshire animal feed firm has been fined £240,000 after a farmer was crushed to death on his birthday.

David Leslie, of Blairton Farm, Menie, near Balmedie, died when a 2t fully loaded grain bin fell on him from a forklift truck on 18 March 2013, his 49th birthday.

Mr Leslie worked for an animal feed services company and had been picking up a load from grain merchant East Coast Viners Grain’s site in Drumlithie, Stonehaven, when the incident happened.

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Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard the firm, which admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, did not have a safe system of work in place for the task and operators were left to carry it out in any way they saw fit.

The company had assumed the forklift training they had received from an external provider would cover safe working, the court was told.

On the day of the incident, Mr Leslie had been helping with the loading operation.

He was standing near the base of the grain elevator, which carries the animal feed up and drops it into a bulk transporter, and was ready to pull the lever in the grain bin to release the feed once it was in position.

The forklift driver picked up the grain bin, which weighed about 600kg and held 1.5t of feed, and raised the forks to about five-and-a-half feet to allow better visibility as he moved forwards.

However, the bin started to move on the forks and he shouted a warning, but Mr Leslie was in front of the forklift when the bin fell off the forks striking him.

Mr Leslie died after suffering crush injuries to his head, neck and chest.

Site rules

Although the company’s site rules required visiting drivers to keep away from the loading operation until advised by the forklift driver, this was not communicated to employees or drivers, the court heard.

As a result, employees regularly allowed visiting drivers to help loading by pulling the grain bin lever to release the feed. Supervisors were on site and aware that this was happening.

An investigation by the HSE found that despite previous incidents of grain bins slipping from the forks of the trucks, no mechanism or device to secure them had been installed.

There was also poor visibility in the loading area where the forklifts were operating; failures in work systems and in training for employees.

Since the incident, East Coast Viners Grain has stopped using metal grain bins and now only uses cloth bags.

It has updated its risk assessments and work procedures and now prevents visiting drivers from assisting in lifting operations. Visiting drivers are also asked to sign that they have read the site rules.

Speaking after the case, HSE principal inspector Niall Miller, said Mr Leslie’s death could have easily been prevented if visiting drivers had been adequately protected during loading operations.

He added: “The issues with unsecured loads on forklift trucks and the dangers of inadequate segregation of vehicles and people are well-known in all relevant industries.

“It was entirely foreseeable that there was a risk of death or serious injury if the grain bin fell from the forklift truck, particularly as the company was aware of previous incidents of loads falling.”