The family of a teenager who died after a tragic farm accident have paid tribute to a “fun-loving and caring son and brother” – in the wake of a court ruling which saw a farming partnership fined £45,000 following his death.
Nineteen-year-old Zach Fox died after being engulfed in oil seed rape while trying to clear a blockage in a grain bin at Deanfoot Farm, Denholm, on August 1, 2014.
Tenant farmer James Manners and colleagues made frantic efforts to save the teenager as he continued to submerge into the grain.
Resuscitation was carried out for over an hour, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
In a statement issued to the Hawick News this week, the Fox family said: “Zach was a fun-loving caring son and brother, who is missed more than we can say. He loved the farming life and was a proud member of Teviotdale Young Farmers, and loved his golf being a past junior captain at Minto Golf Club.
“We were lucky to have him in our lives. Our lives have been shattered since the accident, but we are so proud of Zach’s friends and the local community who have supported us since his death. His friends are a credit to the youth of today and have helped us more than they will ever know.”
Seamore Farming, a partnership having its business at Deanfoot Farm, Denholm, appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court on Monday, and admitted failing to make a suitable assessment of health and safety.
The partnership – comprising James Manners and his estranged wife – failed to maintain and provide a system that was safe in relation to clearing blockages from the grain exit, which required persons to enter a confined space in the grain bin, containing flowing solids, such as oil seed rape.
Prosecutor Gary Aitken said the partnership had no previous convictions, but there had been failures to have “a safe system of work” in place, resulting in the tragic death of the 19-year-old farm worker.
Zach had not been directly employed by Seamore Farming, although had worked as a full-time farm worker for about a year – and had been helping out at a busy time of year.
Mr Aitken told how large metal containers were used for storing grain at harvest time, and would require cleaning out about four times a year.
“It is not uncommon for blockages to occur,” he explained.
He told how Zach had climbed into the 25-ton bin, which was about a quarter full, to try remove a blockage, and became immersed in the free-flowing grain and died of asphyxiation.
“Someone would climb up the ladder on the exterior and climb inside,” he explained, “and a long pole was used to allow the grain to flow.”
He said Zach has used this method before, as had others on the farm, and it usually took about half-an-hour.
Mr Manners was working nearby when he heard shouting from someone in the bin.
He climbed up the external ladder and could see Zach was waist deep in grain inside.
Mr Manners turned off the chain conveyer and went for help, but by the time he returned, Zach was up to his neck in grain, with only his head and outstretched arms visible.
He climbed up and put a rope around him, to try to pull him out, and also tried to dig the grain away but it flowed back just as quickly.
“Zach became emerged in grain and died very quickly,” said Mr Aitken.
Colleagues made frantic efforts to recover him, drilling holes in the bin.
Emergency services attended and found him unconscious.
“Resuscitation efforts continued for over an hour, but he had passed away,” said Mr Aitken.
The prosecutor continued: “There had not been any risk assessment for the task.
“I sincerely hope that today’s proceedings area wake-up call for other farming businesses.
“Open access was a clear hazard, and the access ladder on the exterior was damaged, and there was no fall protection
“The task did not require entry to the bin and can be carried out without doing so.”
He said a pathology report confirmed Zach had died very quickly.
He said the farming business conceded the system was unsafe and had complied with notices issued to them.
Mr Aitken said the 1,700 acre farm was mainly arable, but also had sheep and pedigree cattle.
Defence solicitor Claire Bone said her client extended his deepest sympathy to the Fox family, who were also in court, and had also been deeply affected by the tragedy. “This may serve to warn others, and was not a deliberate attempt to cut corners,” she explained.
She said the bins had been installed some 35 years ago, and had been cleaned the same way over that time.
Ms Bone said the business had acted swiftly to implement a safe environment. “Clearly this is a serious matter and, with the benefit of hindsight, these working practises could have been avoided,” she said.
Sheriff Peter Paterson fined the business £45,000.
He said: “The court extends its condolences to the Fox family over this tragic matter.
“This has undoubtedly also been very difficult for the Manners family. It is a tragic matter, and it is an accident. It was never foreseen it would occur. However, it is a serious matter, and the court must reflect that.
“I take account of the efforts taken by the Manners, and the fact they put themselves at risk in doing that.”
Sounding a cautionary note, the Fox family statement concluded: “We hope the farming community will stop, look around their working environment and take a minute to check that they are working safely.”