Safety executive probes slurry deaths

Published Monday, 17 September 2012
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The Health and Safety Executive says it is confident it will be able to establish the chain of events at the Co Down farm which resulted in the death of three members of the same family.

Safety executive probes slurry deaths
Dermot Breen, from Health and Safety Executive, at a press conference in Belfast (© Pacemaker)

Investigators moved onto the farm at the weekend in a bid to piece together what took place at the Spence family's farm on Saturday evening.

The emergency services received a call at around 6.20pm to attend an incident involving a slurry pit on the Drumlough Road, near Hillsborough.

Fifty-eight-year-old Noel Spence and his two sons, Graham and Nevin, died as a result of the incident.

Graham was a 30-year-old father of two and Nevin, aged 22, was a promising Ulster Rugby player.

Their sister Emma received hospital treatment for inhalation of fumes and has since been discharged.

A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokesperson confirmed: "A team of Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus and using extension ladders and lines quickly entered the slurry pit to rescue one of the victims for immediate medical attention.

"The other victims were out of the slurry pit on arrival of Fire Crews, who also assisted with administering CPR at the scene.

"Twelve Fire Appliances attended the incident, including the Fire & Emergency Support Service vehicle to help provide support for all involved at the scene of the tragedy."

We need to do all we can to work together to promote farm safety.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill

On Monday, the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSE NI) attended a specially arranged press conference at the Belfast headquarters of the Ulster Farmers' Union.

Statistics highlighted by the body show how dangerous the agricultural industry can be, with 23 deaths in farming accidents in 20 months.

One quarter of the deaths was a result of incidents involving slurry pits.

Slurry is notoriously dangerous due to the toxic gases it emits, particularly hydrogen sulphide which interferes with the respiratory system. Although it has a very strong smell, the gas can paralyse the sense of smell and cause loss of consciousness.

Dermot Breen, HSE NI's acting Chief Executive, told UTV that they hoped to conclude the investigation into the Co Down tragedy over the course of the next few weeks.

"We'll be able to establish sufficient information, really, to give us a very clear idea of what happened."

He said that there were interviews that still needed to be conducted.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is urging a greater emphasis on safety, with the possibility of inspections being stepped up.

The Sinn Féin MLA said: "Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations.

"Quite often farmers are working for long periods of time on their own, working with heavy machinery, working with livestock and obviously as we've seen from the events of the weekend, working with slurry is another potential danger."

Harry Sinclair, of the Ulster Farmers' Union, said that many families involved in the industry will be left thinking that the accident could have happened to their loved ones.

He said the farming community had been left reeling in shock over the deaths.

"Every Northern Ireland family is feeling for them."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
NIC in Belfast wrote (866 days ago):
No one will ever know if some form of safety equipment had been available at the farm that it would have prevented this terrible accident . Will farm slurry pits and cattle houses with tanks have to be kitted out with safety floats,breathing masks and safety harnesses or will farmers have to have a safety kit before they are passed to keep slurry. If this is the case I think that assistance should be given. Rip Spence Family
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