A SALMON farm company was fined £14,700 this week for a series of health and safety failings uncovered following the death of one of its employees who fell overboard from the vessel Conquest.
Mainstream Scotland Ltd was not charged in connection with the death of employee Martin Ramsay, 44, who was not wearing a lifejacket when he plunged into the water as the boat returned to the harbour at Voe after working at Aith on 19th March last year.
But at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday the company admitted failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees on or between 19th and 29th March last year and failing to provide information and training.
The company pleaded guilty to having no continuous guardrail on the starboard side of the 20-metre Conquest, no guard rail around raised work platforms and no guard rail or sufficient high raised edge around the hold hatch.
They also pleaded guilty to not ensuring life jackets were in working order and failing to implement a maintenance system to ensure the automatic inflation mechanisms were in an efficient state.
The company also accepted that it had failed to ensure the ship operated in a safe manner. As well as having no side railing on the starboard side over a distance of three metres, the deck on the starboard side was obstructed by two large-diameter hoses. There was no lighting on the main deck and no suitable assessment of the risk to workers had been made.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said that the gap in the starboard side rail was of sufficient size for anyone to fall through, and the salmon killing table on the centre of the deck and the hoses used to pump the fish to and from the boat led to the working area being “particularly cluttered”.
Movement round the deck required stepping over pipes and was restriced by various pieces of equipment and different levels of flooring, leading to a “foreseeable risk of falls”.
In addition, the effectiveness of the life jackets was “questionable” and there was a foreseeable risk to employees.
Defence solicitor Bill Spiers said that Mainstream Scotland, which employs a total of 130 people throughout Scotland, had bought the boat in 2003 and made no alterations to it. The vessel had been surveyed by marine surveyors prior to purchase and had been regularly inspected by the MCA, most recently in 2004, but the gap in the rail on the starboard side, which was to allow pipes to be manually manoeuvred, had never been highlighted as a defect. Neither had the hoses which had been causing an obstruction.
He described it as a “systemic failure” throughout the company and admitted there had been an over-reliance by management on skippers, who should have had health and safety training.
This training was now being done.
Mainstream Scotland, he said, now accepted there had been insufficient attention to specific aspects and the issue of falling from height had not been assessed. The company had also “assumed” their employees had the skills to maintain life jackets because they had been on a sea survival course.
Mr Spiers said that Mainstream Scotland had carried out “intensive” activity after the accident. The company had co-operated fully with the MCA and HSE and had now engaged a health and safety adviser. The company had spent more than £100,000 in rectifying the faults and had a “continuing financial and moral commitment” to this process.
Sheriff Graeme Napier said there had been a failure of the management system to allow “obvious” defects to exist, defects which could have been remedied relatively easily.