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Wind farm firms admit safety breaches over worker who froze to death

A construction company and a security firm have admitted breaching health and safety rules in an incident which led to the death of a 74-year-old wind farm security guard.

Ronnie Alexander died in hospital in January 2018.

He had been “exposed to extreme weather conditions” for several hours at the Afton wind farm construction site, near New Cumnock.

Another security guard was also exposed to the heavy snow and cold.

At Ayr Sheriff Court, construction firm Northstone (NI) Ltd and security firm Corporate Services Management admitted failing to provide a reliable source of heating at the site.

The companies also failed to provide an adequate system of communication so their staff could contact the emergency services.

They also failed to ensure there was a plan in place to evacuate the security guards in an emergency.

Lawyers for both firms offered their condolences to the family of Mr Alexander during the court hearing.

The tragedy unfolded on 21 January 2018, after The Met Office issued a yellow “be aware” warning for heavy snow across large swathes of Scotland.

Mr Alexander’s family became concerned when he failed to return from a 12-hour shift at the wind farm near New Cumnock.

They tried to call his mobile phone but the signal at the construction site was patchy at best, and they could not make contact.

A search was mounted for Mr Alexander after his grandson raised the alarm at about 20:20.

The family were told at 01:00 that Police Scotland’s Mountain Rescue Team had found the security guard about a mile from his cabin and more than six hours after his shift finished.

He was airlifted off the site with a younger colleague.

Mr Alexander died on 22 January and the cause of death was confirmed as hypothermia.

In a statement, Mr Alexander’s widow Mary, from Kilmarnock, said the couple had been married for almost 50 years.

She said: “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.”

His daughter 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.”

Mr Alexander was employed by Corporate Services Management – known as CSM Facilities – and Northstone is the parent company of Farrans Construction, the wind farm contractor for the site.

They both appeared on a Section 76 indictment at Ayr Sheriff Court.

Northstone admitted failing to ensure a safe system of work at the Afton wind farm site, in particular:

  • It failed to provide a reliable source of back-up generator for heating. The charge stated that the generator at the main compound was subject to regular break down and there was a no back-up. Similarly, there was no back-up for a generator at the guard house.
  • It did not provide a way for the security guards to contact the emergency services in the event of an emergency, or to ensure that there was a plan in place for them to evacuate the site.
  • The documents stated that both security guards were exposed to extreme winter weather conditions on 21 January without adequate heating or means of communicating with the emergency services “as a result of which Ronald Alexander suffered hypothermia and died”.

    Corporate Services Management admitted failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its two employees between 1 October 2016 and 22 Jan 2018.

    ‘Sincerest sympathies’

    Following the court hearing Northstone issued a statement in which it expressed its deep regret.

    The statement said: “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.”

    It added that the company took “immediate action” to prevent a re-occurrence.