Death Caused By Health & Safety Obsession
FIRE chiefs “should have saved” a mother of two who fell into a disused mineshaft, her family said, after a fatal accident inquiry found her death could have been avoided.
Lawyer Alison Hume suffered “survivable” injuries after plunging 14 metres down the collapsed shaft in Galston, Ayrshire, in July 2008.
Her rescue was delayed by senior fire officers who showed “rigid compliance” with official health and safety procedures, the inquiry concluded.
Strathclyde Fire and Rescue said Mrs Hume’s death was “a source of enormous regret” but stopped short of issuing an apology to the family.
Firefighters had wanted to go down to rescue her, and 18 of them had been trained to do so. But their senior officers refused to give them permission, believing the situation was not safe.
In his findings after the fatal accident inquiry, Sheriff Derek Leslie said the decision by senior officers to leave Mrs Hume in freezing conditions, having suffered several serious injuries, was “in conflict with the greater aims of a rescue service”.
He was highly critical and said her death could have been avoided if reasonable precautions had been taken by firefighters, who arrived first at the scene, and police.
The sheriff criticised Group Commander Paul Stewart, the senior fire officer at the scene, for saying the rescue had been “a success”.
Sheriff Leslie went on: “Unfortunately, this was not a successful operation: a woman died who had not only sustained survivable, though life-threatening, injuries, but who had also ultimately suffered and died from acute hypothermia, brought about by a prolonged period down a mineshaft, in which time she had been partly immersed, for a time at least, in water.
“I consider that the views expressed by Mr Stewart and Mr [Group Commander William] Thomson were of a fundamentalist adherence to Strathclyde Fire and Rescue policy.”
He also chastised Assistant Chief Fire Officer John Walker for telling the inquiry “he did not consider that fire and rescue services had a sub-surface remit” and would only have one when responding to the collapse of a building, tunnel or some other “structure”, which did not include mines.
“I was not directed to any legislation, or protocol, that allows me to accept the views expressed by Group Commander Stewart, or Assistant Chief Fire Officer Walker, that the type of rescue they would have required to undertake with Mrs Hume was not within the parameters of their engagement,” Sheriff Leslie said.
“There is little doubt that the rank-and-file firefighters in attendance were anxious to conduct a rescue as quickly as possible but were prevented from doing so by the superiors.”
Lions and donkeys. If ever there was a case that demanded that the officers were publicly stripped of their stripes then this is it.