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Mechanic crushed to death by forklift after handbrake left off

Jamie McLean, 22, was repairing the forklift at a sawmill in Falkirk when it slipped into gear.

Jame McLean: The 22-year-old was described as a model employee.
Jame McLean: The 22-year-old was described as a model employee. Central Scotland News Agency

A mechanic was crushed to death by a forklift he was repairing when the machine accidentally slipped into gear while the handbrake was off.

Jamie McLean was found unconscious and "turning purple" by shocked workers at a sawmill in Falkirk only minutes after he had been seen eating his lunch.

Mr McLean, 22, a fully qualified forklift fitter, was trying to trace a leak on the loader at James Callander and Son's Abbotshaugh Sawmill in Bainsford when the incident happened on January 13 last year.

On Wednesday at Falkirk Sheriff Court, a fatal accident inquiry heard Mr McLean had parked his company van near the forklift in the sawmill yard and was probably reaching into the forklift cab to rev the engine when he knocked the gear lever, causing the truck to move forwards.

He was spotted by sawmill worker Gordon Beattie, who realised he was trapped between the forklift and the van's wing mirror.

Procurator fiscal depute Sandra Craig said: "Mr Beattie was driving another forklift truck past the area where Mr McLean was working and noticed that he was trapped upright between the forklift truck and the Transit van and he was turning purple.

"Mr Beattie ran for help and Alan Paterson, another sawmill employee, turned off the engine of the forklift and jumped into the Transit via the passenger door to try to move it, only to find there were no keys in the ignition.

"They tried to push the Transit backwards but the vehicle was heavy with tools and could not be moved. It was not possible to move the forklift, because Mr McLean was blocking the way into the cab."

She continued: "Mr Paterson then used another forklift to lift the Transit out of the way and Mr McLean fell to the ground unconscious.

"An ambulance was called and arrived within minutes, and Mr McLean was taken to the nearby Forth Valley Royal Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2.05 pm."

Health and Safety Executive specialist engineer Peter Dodds said tests showed the ground where the incident happened was flat and the forklift could only have moved forward if its parking brake was off, it was in forward gear and the accelerator was depressed.

Mr Dodds said it appeared a valve in the truck's hydraulic circuit had been leaking and to trace it Mr McLean had leaned in through the open cab door and pressed the accelerator with one hand while operating the tilt control with the other hand, and may have accidentally put the truck into gear.

He said: "When I examined it, the parking brake was off and the gear lever was in the forward position."

Mr Dodds agreed with Sheriff Christopher Shead that if the brake had been on the accident would not have happened.

He added new forklifts were now fitted with a safety cutout that prevented them being driven unless someone was actually sitting in the driver's seat.

Mr Dodds said there was nothing wrong with the forklift involved in the incident and it complied with all requirements in force at the time.

Michelle Gillies, 45, an HSE inspector, said the gear lever of the forklift was situated by the steering wheel and "could quite easily have been knocked into forward drive".

Ann Bonomy, solicitor for Mr McLean's employers, East Kilbride-based Valmar Handling Systems, described Mr McLean as a model employee.

She said the company - where Mr McLean's father also worked - expressed its deep regret to his family, adding: "This was a mistake, an effective one-off that has resulted in tragic consequences."

The sheriff will give his determination in writing at a later date.

Mr McLean, of Langlees, Falkirk, was a triplet, and is survived by his brothers Andrew and Calum, sister Linzi and his parents Moira and Jim.

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