16th October 2018
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Fatal accident inquiry delay over missing fan heater

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An official inquiry into the death of a Brae joiner killed when an expanding can of foam exploded into his chest has been further delayed because a fan heater which went missing after being taken from the scene of the accident for testing has still not been found.

The fatal accident inquiry began last year after James Thomson was killed by an exploding can of Evo-Stik foam as he helped build a house in Levenwick in March 2007.

The 26-year-old, who worked for his father’s firm Dennis Thomson Builders, had a number of cans of the polyurethane foam lined up in a room to warm in front of a tiny floor-level fan heater before he used them to block drafts around the edges of window-frames in the house.

After sitting for two days last August the inquiry was delayed until January to allow evidence to be heard via video satellite link from Swiss-based manufacturer Polypag AG.

However Sheriff Graeme Napier was forced to delay the inquiry a second time until this week for Polypag’s chemical technician, Torsten Kellner, to answer further questions.

He also said he wanted to allow time for the fan heater – taken from the house by health and safety officials for testing – to be found for further testing, after hearing it had gone missing while in their care.

On Tuesday procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said that to all intents and purposes the heater had “vanished” despite a “number of rigorous searches” by the Health and Safety Executive.

“They’ve carried out a fairly intensive investigation, and they are extremely alarmed an item of evidence has gone missing,” he said.

“This is the first case of its kind in 25 years, and the lab where the testing was carried out was in a secure zone with white card access to designated members of staff only.”

One possible explanation, he said, was that the label could have been removed from the heater prior to testing, and then not re-attached afterwards.

Sheriff Napier added: “Either way, we certainly won’t be able to get further testing done on it.”

Previously the inquiry had heard doubts over whether the heater would have been powerful enough to generate the heat needed to cause the canister to explode.

Representing Mr Thomson’s widow, Karen, solicitor Linda Gregory said in January evidence from HSE tests had demonstrated the heater could not have heated the can enough to lead to its destruction.

She told the inquiry a manufacturing defect had to be considered as a possible cause of the accident.

She said while a number of similar cans tested by HSE scientists exploded after being heated to 130 degrees centigrade, one had only reached a pressure of 7.6 bar – considerably less than the figure recorded in the other burst cans, and suggesting a defect had occurred with the can.

The inquiry was also held off because a transcript of January’s hearings still had to be translated into German and signed by Mr Kellner.

Delaying the inquiry until 23rd March, sheriff Napier said he was also waiting for a “proper explanation” as to why there had been a delay in the transcript being made available, adding Mr Thomson’s family were entitled to an explanation.

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