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Fatal Accident Inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Mr Peter Drysdale [2010] FAI 51


In terms of section 6(1)(a) of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976, the Sheriff found that on 8th September 2009 at approximately 1100 hours Peter Drysdale died at Dalbeathie Farm, Dunkeld, as the result of an accident there. The cause of death was multiple injuries and blunt force trauma resulting from entrapment by the hydraulic mechanism of an agricultural trailer.

The deceased was a member of a well-known farming family, which he ran with his son, Mr Drysdale Jnr. The farm had an employee, Mr Simpson. On the day in question Mr Drysdale Jnr and Mr Simpson were storing barley in one of the farm sheds, an annual task carried out every winter. The barley was in a trailer, attached to a tractor that had been placed in the shed. The trailer had metal sides, and was raised and lowered by means of two hydraulic arms. The tailgate was also raised and lowered by means of hydraulic arms attached to either side of the trailer. When the tailgate was lowered, its lip made a tight seal with the trailer platform, thereby preventing the contents from escaping. The trailer and tailgate were operated independently by separate spool valves or levers at the right hand side of the tractor cab. They could not be operated from the back of the trailer.

At approx.1100 hours both men were involved in tipping the load from the trailer onto the floor at the back of the shed, where a large pile of grain was already stored. After Mr Simpson had tipped half the load onto the floor, with Mr. Drysdale watching, he then lowered the trailer and moved it forward slightly. At this point he exited the cab for the first time, and the two men proceeded to clean the trailer area next to the tailgate with their hands. The cleaning operation took them about 10 to 20 seconds. It was during the tipping operation that the deceased walked into the shed.

When they were finished, Mr. Simpson returned to the tractor to move the trailer outside the shed. The tractor engine was still running. This particular operation involved lowering the trailer completely before closing the tailgate and then driving forwards. It was the men's intention to raise the trailer platform outside and allow the remainder of the grain to slide to the rear before returning the trailer to the shed. After operating the levers, it took Mr. Simpson in total about ten to fifteen seconds to lower the trailer completely and about five or six seconds for him to close the tailgate. However, as the tractor passed Mr Drysdale Jnr he became aware that his father had become caught in the tailgate at the nearside of the trailer. The deceased's feet were about six to eight inches off the ground and all that Mr Drysdale Jnr could see were his legs. The rest of his body was within the trailer compartment. The deceased was later pronounced dead upon the arrival of the emergency services.

The Crown submitted that there was no question that the deceased had died as a result of an accident, which involved being crushed between the tailgate and the back end of the trailer. What was not known was how he came to be in contact with the tailgate in the first place. Mr Drysdale Jnr was unable to say how the deceased came to be caught in the tailgate; he thought that his father might have seen some barley still lying at the rear of the trailer and tried to remove it. Mr. Simpson also commented that the deceased was "quite careful", and his guess was also that he was trying to help by clearing grain from the rear when the tailgate came down. The Sheriff accepted that this was the most likely explanation and inference, but noted that it could not be supported by direct evidence.

In order to prevent future accidents, in terms of the section 6(1)(e) of the Act, the Sheriff noted that the other facts relevant to the circumstances of death were (a) the absence of any audible warning system when the tailgate was being raised or lowered and (b) the absence of any sensory system to halt the movement of the tailgate on detecting an object immediately below it. The Sheriff recommended that the manufacturers of such equipment consider the introduction of these possible safety systems to prevent future similar tragedies occurring.