The family of a wind farm worker who died after being stranded in severe weather are hopeful lessons can be learned by the firms who admitted breaking health and safety laws.
Ronnie Alexander froze to death at the Afton wind farm near New Cumnock, East Ayrshire, in January 2018, just a few months after his 49th wedding anniversary.
The 74-year-old was employed by Glasgow-based CSM Facilities, but Belfast firm Farrans Construction – which was building the wind farm at the time of the incident – was responsible for the overall health and safety of the site.
Both firms faced Ayr Sheriff Court on Wednesday and admitted breaches which resulted in Mr Alexander’s death.
His widow Mary, 81, from Kilmarnock, said: “Losing Ronnie was the hardest thing our family has experienced.
“He was loving, hard-working, kind spirited and he doted on his grandkids – that’s why he was still working in his 70s because he wanted to spoil his family.
“My husband died in January 2018 and November of that year would have been our 50th wedding anniversary.
“To have lived through so much together and have him taken because his boss failed on basic, common sense procedures is just beyond us all.
“While we now know what happened that night it pains us to imagine what Ronnie felt – not just the physical struggle but enduring it alone.
“Because of this, we’ll never really have peace or closure.”
On January 21 2018, the Met Office issued a yellow “be aware” warning for heavy snow and the alarm was raised at around 8.30pm after Mr Alexander failed to return home from a 12-hour shift.
Police Scotland’s Mountain Rescue Team found him at around 1am on January 22 in deep snow and nearly a mile from his security cabin, where the generator had failed and left him without electricity or heat.
It is thought he left his post in an effort to reach a second cabin just over half-a-mile away, in the hope it still had power so he could survive the night.
Mr Alexander still had signs of life and was airlifted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary but medics only estimated a 5% chance of survival.
Despite the efforts of intensive care staff, he died later that morning with the cause of death confirmed as hypothermia.
His daughter, 48-year-old Laura Alexander, said: “The only saving grace is that the rescuers found our dad and the hospital kept him alive long enough so he wasn’t alone at the very end and we got to say goodbye.
“We now just hope all industries, not just wind farms, who rely on remote workers take a hard look at themselves, their support procedures and back-up plans to make sure people are safe.
“No other family should have to endure this trauma because it’s not just the loss that hurts – the aftermath brings its own agony.
“We finally just want to thank our family, friends and the community for their support but now request to be left alone.”
Farrans is a trading division of Northstone (NI) Limited, with a sentencing hearing to be held on Thursday September 30.
The company said in a statement: “Northstone accepts that on this occasion at Afton Windfarm we did not meet the high health and safety standards that we seek to achieve to protect our employees, customers, clients, subcontractors and communities.
“We deeply regret that this resulted in the death of Mr Ronald Alexander Our thoughts and sincerest sympathies remain with his family and friends.
“We took immediate action on the Afton Windfarm project to prevent a re-occurrence.
“As part of our internal investigation and the subsequent findings of this investigation, we have reviewed and improved our risk control processes across the business.”
A spokesman for CSM said: “We are deeply saddened by this incident and would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt thoughts and condolences to Ronnie’s family.”
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