£100,000 fine after tractor tragedy

Date: Monday 29th October 2018

A NORTH Cumbria farm partnership has been fined £100,000 for breaching health and safety law after an employee died in a tragic tractor accident.

Stephen Toppin, a 57-year-old farm labourer, suffered fatal head injuries while working at Wragmire Bank, near Cumwhinton, on the morning of 26th January last year.

Mr Toppin, whose main job was to rear calves, stepped out of a shed and directly into the path of a tractor towing a trailer as it travelled through a narrow passageway which ran between buildings on the busy dairy farm.

Carlisle Crown Court heard today how the teenaged tractor driver was "not in any way at fault".

Following the tragedy, farm partnership J. S. Wood and Son was charged with — and admitted — a health and safety breach. It accepted failing to ensure that the farm workplace was "organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles could circulate in a safe manner".

Prosecutor Mr David Temkin said: "The defendant hadn't undertaken any — or any proper — workplace transport risk assessment." Had that been undertaken, it would have identified calf shed exits leading directly into the main traffic route, creating the "highest risk area".

"At the time of the accident there was no segregation of vehicles and pedestrians, no demarcation and no signage to ensure that employees were warned about — and prevented from coming into contact with — moving vehicles," said Mr Temkin.

A risk assessment, he added, would also have taken into account that Mr Toppin was 70 per cent deaf, and wore a hearing aid.

J. S. Wood and Son had since entirely complied with improvement notices issued by the Health and Safety Executive, introducing warning signs, railing and speed limits — and gone "over and above" its obligations by creating a pedestrian walkway to maximise site safety.

Ms Elizabeth Dudley Jones mitigated for the partnership, which was represented in court by 63-year-old John Wood.

"It is a small family unit and the loss of Mr Toppin felt like a member of the family," she said, stating that Mr Wood's farm had since been sold. "This is a man who is still to this day incredibly distressed about what happened, and why it happened."

Imposing a £100,000 fine and £7,310.80 costs, Judge James Adkin said his powers were constrained by sentencing guidelines. He said: "Nothing in the sentence I can pass could undo the upset and suffering of Mr Toppin's surviving family and others who knew him well."