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Ex-Dundee FC director fined over employee's death in chemical tank

Steven Conway, 33, went into the tank used to clean alloy wheels and was overcome by toxic fumes.

Diamond Wheels in Dundee where Steven Conway died in chemical tank. Pic from Google Streetview. Uploaded on October 10 2015.
© 2015 Google

A company run by a former Dundee Football Club director has been fined £50,000 after one of its workers was overcome by toxic fumes and died in a chemical tank.

Diamond Wheels (Dundee) Ltd, owned and operated by Paul Marr, son of ex-Dundee FC owner Peter Marr, admitted a catalogue of health and safety failings over the death of Steven Conway at its premises in the city.

Mr Conway was sent to clean out a chemical tank that contained "volatile" compounds in 2011 at an industrial unit where Marr ran the firm, which specialises in restoring alloy wheels for cars.

Dundee Sheriff Court heard Mr Conway, a 33-year-old father-of-two, was sent in to remove debris created from the process of stripping wheels using a chemical known as EFX Strip.

That chemical contains methlyene chloride, methanol and hydrofluoric acid and is described as a "highly volatile organic compound".

Mr Conway went in to the tank wearing only trainers, tracksuit bottoms, a T-shirt and a fleece.

He was not provided with overalls or any other protective clothing and wore a mask that did nothing to protect him from the toxic fumes let off by the chemicals.

Fiscal depute Emma Stewart told the court: "Mr Conway was found wearing the face mask, kneeling inside the stripping tank.

"He was slumped against the side of the tank and appeared to be unconscious. He appeared to be kneeling on top of two allow wheels which had been placed in the bottom of the tank."

Mr Marr and a colleague then hauled him out and tried to resuscitate him.

Paramedics arrived at 1.38pm and performed CPR but found no vital signs. He was eventually pronounced dead in hospital at 2.55pm.

A post-mortem examination found he had suffered chemical burns to his thighs, knees, shins and feet "typical of chemical burns from contact with hydrofluoric acid".

Pathologists concluded he had died from inhaling industrial paint stripper.

Ms Stewart added: "A joint investigation was undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive and Tayside Police."

She said the tank he was working in was not properly ventilated, he was not provided with any protective clothing, the protective gloves he was provided with had holes in them and the face mask he was wearing was actually releasing "contaminants" into his air supply.

Sheriff Alistair Brown asked: "Does that mean far from providing protection, this equipment was actually supplying in the air stream the toxic substance?"

Ms Stewart said: "Yes, it would be creating a false sense of security."

She added: "There were no emergency rescue procedures in the premises, no risk assessment was carried out and there was no safe system of work in place."

Diamond Wheels (Dundee) Ltd, which has a registered office in Nethergate, Dundee, pleaded guilty on indictment to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act committed between February 1 and August 18, 2011.

Defence advocate Gavin Anderson said the company had undertaken extensive efforts to adhere strictly to health and safety standards since Mr Conway's death.

He said the firm was being kept afloat for the time being by cash injections from Peter Marr.

Mr Anderson said: "I express publicly in open court that Mr Conway's tragic death is genuinely and deeply regretted by all associated with the company.

"He had been a friend of Mr Marr for seven years prior to this and was valued not only as an employee but also as a friend."

Sheriff Alistair Brown imposed a £50,000 fine. He said: "I offer Mr Conway's family my condolences.

"But I must make it clear that, in selecting a sentence, I am in no sense putting a value on Mr Conway's life.

"To do so would be impossible and to attempt to do so would be presumptuous.

"In my opinion the foundational criticism to be made of this company is that, although they must have realised there was some risk involved in using EFX strip, they did not act on that by ensuring that they found out what it was they were using and discovering what measures were needed to protect their staff.

"It ought to be obvious to anyone of ordinary intelligence that there is some risk involved in using a fluid which is volatile, which is strong enough to strip alloy wheels and which is referred to in the industry as 'acid'."

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