The family of a security guard who froze to death at a construction site when he was snowed in have said they now have justice after two companies were fined almost £900,000 for health and safety failings.
Ronnie Alexander was on duty at Afton wind farm, near New Cumnock in East Ayrshire, in January 2018 during bad weather. The 74-year-old was found lying in the snow and later died in hospital from hypothermia.
Northstone NI Ltd and Corporate Service Management were fined a total of £868,800 at Ayr Sheriff Court on Wednesday, the Crown Office said, after previously pleading guilty to failings under health and safety laws.
Mr Alexander’s family said in a statement, issued through Digby Brown Solicitors: “Now we have the sentence we can now say we have justice.
“We are gobsmacked at the level of fine handed down by the sheriff – we certainly welcome it.
“But ultimately is it all bittersweet because at the end of the day we are still without Ronnie and no punishment can change that.”
The Crown Office said Northstone, which was handed a £768,000 fine, ran the remote site and there were two generators which were set up to provide heating and electricity – both of which had broken a number of times and had not been replaced. There was no back-up generator.
With no landline service and limited mobile phone coverage, an internet phone system was used which required a password and power from the generator, the Crown Office said.
Corporate Service Management, which was fined £100,800, provided guards for the site but had not given them the passwords and the guards had no access to the internet phone.
The Crown Office said that despite knowing about the lack of signal, the company expected guards to use their personal mobiles in an emergency.
On January 21, 2018, Mr Alexander and his colleague were the only staff on site. Mr Alexander was on duty in the gatehouse and his colleague was 860 metres uphill at the main compound.
Other workers had arrived in the morning to try and clear the snow but the weather was too bad and they left around 11am, and warned Mr Alexander’s colleague at the main compound if he did not follow them down in the next five to 10 minutes, the road would be blocked.
At this time there was no snow on the 4×4 vehicle provided to the security guard, the Crown Office said.
At 1pm, Mr Alexander’s colleague tried to drive the 4×4 down to the gatehouse but it got stuck in the snow.
He tried to walk but the snow was too deep. Over the course of the next three hours he kept trying to move the vehicle and walk to the gatehouse but was unsuccessful.
At 5pm the guard went to the top of a small hill to get mobile service and called his supervisor to report the 4×4 was trapped in deep snow and the generator had gone out, leaving him without heating and lighting.
He was told to try and drive to the gatehouse, collect Mr Alexander and leave. Contact between the guard and his supervisor was then lost.
Due to the weather the nightshift was cancelled but the two guards who were due to start work at 6pm tried to help their colleagues.
It took them almost an hour to walk the 4km from the car park to the gatehouse, which was in darkness with the generator out.
They could not see their colleagues or get further up the hill so returned to their car and emergency services were called.
Mountain rescue teams managed to reach the gatehouse just before midnight where they found Mr Alexander’s colleague. Mr Alexander was then found lying in snow a short distance away. He was airlifted to hospital but later died.
Alistair Duncan, the head of the health and safety investigation unit at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said Mr Alexander’s death “might have been prevented if appropriate measures for workers to call for help in an emergency had been in place”.
He added: “By failing to ensure the safety of the workers on such a remote site, both Northstone (NI) Ltd and Corporate Service Management Ltd left them in unacceptable risk.
“This prosecution should remind other employers that failing to keep their employees safe can have fatal consequences and they will be held accountable for this failure.”