Cold weather deaths at work

Worker’s hypothermia death shows safety risk from cold weather events

The tragic death of a security guard at a remote construction site in Scotland has shown the need for businesses to properly consider the risks associated with cold weather.

The worker died of hypothermia in January 2018. His employer and the owner of the site he was guarding were subsequently prosecuted and fined a total of £868,800 in November 2021 for failing to adequately plan for such cold weather events.

What happened in the case?

Two security guards were employed by Corporate Service Management Ltd to provide security at a wind farm owned by Northstone Ltd in Ayrshire.

One guard was located at the site compound and the other at the site gatehouse. On January 21, 2018, there was heavy snow at the site resulting in it being cut off due to snow drifts on the access road.

The snow also prevented the guards from being able to reach each other. They could only communicate with each other by radio. Late in the afternoon, one of the guards managed to get a mobile phone message to the company control room telling them that the site generator had failed and that the 4×4 vehicle was immobilised by the snow. The emergency services were only contacted later in the evening.

In the early hours of January 22, Police Scotland’s Mountain Rescue Team found one of the guards lying in the snow. It is presumed he had tried to walk out to safety. Both guards were airlifted to safety but one of them died later that day due to hypothermia.

What did the investigation find?

Upon investigation, it was found that the guards’ employer had not adequately assessed the risks from cold weather. The guards didn’t have an effective means of calling for help if trapped in the location in snow conditions in an area with poor mobile phone reception.

The site owner was also found to have failed in its duty by not providing a back-up generator to maintain heating and lighting in the event the main generator failed, which it had done previously.

In court in November 2021, the guard’s employer pleaded guilty to breaching s.3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £768,000. The site owner was fined £100,800 after admitting breaching s.2(1) of the Act.

This case shows how crucial it is for businesses to ensure they have assessed, considered and mitigated all the potential risks to employee health and safety that could be caused by cold weather events.

Contact the Aegis team today to find out how we can help your business understand and meet health and safety requirements to ensure employees are protected.