Worker crushed under robotic arm

An employee of a multinational tobacco manufacturer died after a piece of equipment fell on him and crushed his neck, an inquest heard.

40fd28cc-5d12-11e3-b696-0a0c0223000020131205T000326
Eleanor Allen, the wife of Trevor Allen, whose inquest is being held at Belfast Coroners court

An employee of a multinational tobacco manufacturer died after a piece of equipment fell on him and crushed his neck, an inquest heard.

Trevor Allen, 63, became trapped under a heavy robotic arm at a plant in Northern Ireland owned by Japan Tobacco International (JTI), Gallaher's in Co Antrim. The state pathologist told a coroner's court the flow of oxygen to his brain would have been interrupted as he was caught by the neck between scaffolding and the machinery arm.

Paramedic Norman Kenny recalled high emotions at the factory.

"The place was in hysterics and someone had to start and organise and prioritise and my priorities started with your father and remained with your father," he told the victim's son Robin.

He added: "People were doing everything with the best of intentions."

Mr Allen, a married maintenance engineer from Sand Road in Galgorm, worked at the Ballymena factory of Gallaher's for over 30 years. The company was taken over in 2007 by JTI.

The victim was carrying out repair work on the equipment when a heavy part of it fell on top of him in July 2011. He ended up lying partly on the ground and partly draped over a piece of scaffolding which was used to allow maintenance access to the machinery.

State pathologist Professor Jack Crane told jurors at the Belfast inquest: "Death was due to the accident in which he was trapped between the scaffolding bar and the arm.

"The front of his neck was compressed, presumably against the metal scaffolding, fracturing his lower jaw and a bone in the front of the neck.

"The neck compression was sufficient to impede the flow of blood to the brain, causing irreversible hypoxia. Starvation of oxygen was responsible for his death."

He said the damage could have been caused within three or four minutes. An ambulance service paramedic was not immediately called by factory staff, with timings given by different witnesses suggesting a gap of perhaps 20 minutes between the accident happening and Mr Kenny's arrival.

The paramedic said he was relieved when a colleague of the injured man, a part-time fire-fighter with first aid training, arrived to help having been alerted in a different part of the factory.

"Because of his expertise, his background in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, I was very happy to see him because he had knowledge of the machinery," he told Robin Allen.

"I relied on him in that constrained space to keep me safe and also to protect your father."

Colleagues spent some time trying to free Mr Allen until one removed the scaffolding bar and helped lower the victim to the ground.

The victim's wife Eleanor said: "We have increasingly had concerns that there were some substantial failures in the emergency procedures followed."

Employees were encouraged to contact the occupational health nurse should an accident occur and telephones were situated throughout the factory, witnesses said.

Mrs Allen said there seemed to be an element of panic or chaos.

"Emergency services could have offered life-saving advice at that time," she claimed.

The inquest continues tomorrow.