Two companies fined more than £850,000 after failings which caused security guard to die of hypothermia

Two companies have been fined after a security guard died of hypothermia when he and his colleague were snowed in on a construction site. Ronnie Alexander was on duty at Afton Windfarm construction site near New Cumnock, East Ayrshire on January 21, 2018 during bad weather.  The 74-year-old was found lying in the snow and later died in hospital.

On Wednesday, Northstone (NI) Ltd and Corporate Service Management Ltd were fined a total of GBP868,800 after previously pleading guilty to failings under health and safety legislation. Northstone were fined GBP768,000 for their failings and Corporate Service Management were fined GBP100,800. Northstone were the construction company who ran the remote site.

There were two generators to provide heating and electricity, both of which had broken a number of times and hadn’t been replaced and there was no backup generator. With no landline service and limited mobile coverage an internet phone system was used, which required a password and power from the generator. The password was not provided to Corporate Service Management and therefore the security guards had no access.

Corporate Service Management provided security guards to the site and although they knew about the lack of signal, they expected their staff to use personal mobiles in an emergency. Mr Alexander and his colleague were the only staff on site on Sunday, January 21, 2018 and while he was on duty in the gatehouse, his colleague was 860m uphill at the main compound. Other workers had arrived in the morning to try and clear the snow but the weather was too bad and they left around 11am, telling Mr Alexander’s colleague at the main compound if he didn’t follow them down in the next 5 to 10 minutes, the road would be blocked. 

At this time there was no snow on the 4×4 vehicle provided to the security guard. At 1pm, Mr Alexander’s colleague tried to drive the 4×4 down to the gatehouse but it got stuck in the snow. He tried to walk but the snow was too deep and over the course of the next three hours he kept trying to move the vehicle and walk to the gatehouse, however he was unsuccessful.

At 5pm the guard went to the top of a small hill to get mobile service and called his supervisor to report the 4×4 was trapped in deep snow and the generator had gone out, leaving him without heating and lighting. He was told to try and drive to the gatehouse, collect Mr Alexander and leave. Contact between the guard and his supervisor was then lost.

Due to the weather the nightshift was cancelled but the two guards who were due to start work at 6pm tried to help their colleagues.  It took them almost an hour to walk the 4km from the car park to the gatehouse, which was in darkness with the generator out.  They couldn’t see their colleagues or get further up the hill so returned to their car and emergency services were called.

Mountain rescue teams managed to reach the gatehouse just before midnight where they found Mr Alexander’s colleague. Mr Alexander was then found lying in snow a short distance away. He was airlifted to hospital but later died.

Alistair Duncan, Head of the Health and Safety Investigation Unit of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said: “Ronnie Alexander’s death might have been prevented if appropriate measures for workers to call for help in an emergency had been in place. “By failing to ensure the safety of the workers on such a remote site, both Northstone (NI) Ltd and Corporate Service Management Ltd left them in unacceptable risk. This prosecution should remind other employers that failing to keep their employees safe can have fatal consequences and they will be held accountable for this failure.

“Our thoughts are with Mr Alexander’s family at this difficult time.” In a statement released through Digby Brown Solicitors, the family of Ronnie said: “We had to wait years just to get the conviction but now that we have the sentence we can now say we have justice. “We are gobsmacked at the level of fine handed down by the sheriff – we certainly welcome it.

“But ultimately it is all bittersweet because at the end of the day we are still without Ronnie and no punishment can change that.

“We’d just like to thank all our friends and family for their support during this time but now just wish to have our privacy respected as we come to terms with everything.”

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