Builder killed by exploding foam canister was blameless, rules sheriff

The cause of James Thomson's death remains unclear. Click on image to enlarge.
The cause of James Thomson's death remains unclear. Click on image to enlarge.

A Brae builder who was killed when a can of expanding foam exploded has been cleared of any blame for the accident, although the official inquiry into his death has failed to establish exactly why he died.

James Thomson, 26, lost his life after he was hit in the chest and abdomen by an aerosol can of Evo-Stik foam – commonly used in the construction industry – at a new house in Levenwick in March 2007. He was working for his father Dennis Thomson’s firm when the accident happened.

A fatal accident inquiry began in August 2008 and heard evidence from Mr Thomson’s family and work colleagues as well as representatives from canister manufacturers Polypag AG and the Health and Safety executive.

Following a series of delays the inquiry finally drew to a close in April last year and Sheriff Graeme Napier has now issued his determination. In it, he says the explosion was caused by the canister being exposed to a higher than normal temperature, although the exact cause of the raised temperature has not been pinpointed.

“The evidence presented does not allow me to make any determination as to the circumstances which led to the exposure of the canister (the ‘failed canister’) to that excessive temperature and I can accordingly make no determination … as to whether any reasonable precautions might have avoided the accident.

“There were no reasonable precautions which might have avoided the death of the deceased following the occurrence of the accident.

“Despite the extended nature of this inquiry I am not satisfied that I can make any determination as to the cause of the explosion that led to the death of Mr Thomson junior, other than to conclude that it was due to an over-pressurisation probably due to exposure to excessive heat of an unidentified nature.

“I share the frustration of the family, witnesses and agents that no clearer explanation is available, particularly as the inquiry took place over such an extended period.”

Members of Mr Thomson’s family are still considering the determination, but a statement released by his widow Karen paid tribute to “the best husband and dad we could ever wish for”.

It added: “His family was always his first concern. His death devastated our family. Every day for nearly three years we have lived with the devastation. We will do so for the rest of our lives. Our youngest child was due to be born on the day James died.

“What should have been a happy event was filled with overwhelming sadness that James was not there. We cannot put into words how much we all miss him and wish things had been different.

“The fatal accident inquiry was a long and difficult process but we hoped we would get some answers about what caused James’s death.”

The statement said the family were “disappointed” investigations by the HSE were “not as thorough as we had expected”.

“Sheriff Napier would have liked them to do further tests but that was not possible because they lost the fan heater which was in the room at the time.

“We take comfort from the sheriff’s comment that there is no evidence that James was responsible for any contravention of the instructions for using the foam but it is very upsetting that, after all we’ve been through, we will never know what caused the accident.

“We hope that lessons will be learned from James’s death so no other family will experience the trauma that we have.

“Now that the determination from the fatal accident inquiry has been made public and we have had the chance to consider it we would ask that our family be left in peace to grieve for James.”


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