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Farm owner fined over fatality at anaerobic digestion plant

A farm owner and his businesses have been fined a total of £70,000 following the death of a worker who was exposed to toxic gas at an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant.

Matthew Pitt and David Bartlett were working on the plant at Lowbrook Farm, near Blandford Forum in Dorset, in June 2009 when a crust formed on the inside of the digester tank, preventing the stirring mechanism from functioning.

To remedy the issue, the two men opened the roof of the tank and were rendered unconscious by being exposed to hydrogen sulphide gas.

Bartlett awoke to find his colleague had not survived. Two other farm workers and two paramedics also suffered from exposure to the fumes.

Dorchester Crown Court was told that a previous incident had not been reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). On 1 August 2008, farm worker Joerg Grondke fell unconscious after exposure to toxic gas when he was replacing clamps that held the roof seal in place.

For the 2009 incident, Clifford Owen Yeatman admitted two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 as a director of Biogas Nord UK and was fined £15,000. He was fined a further £45,000 as partner of CO and RA Yeatman.

His own company, Farmergy Ltd, also of Lowbrook Farm, was fined £10,000, and both Yeatman and Farmergy were ordered to share £75,000 in costs.

The court was told that, ahead of the fatality, neither Yeatman nor his company Biogas Nord had assessed the risks involved operating the facility. The roof of the tank had been opened five times since March 2009 but the workers had not been trained and were unaware that such an action was a task for specialists.

HSE inspector Annette Walker said: “What has happened at that farm demonstrates the importance of having safe systems of work in place, particularly for maintenance and repair work where the risk of exposure is likely to be highest. The need for specialist skills and training also has to be recognised.”

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