Safety procedures 'not followed' on day man killed in Muller lift tragedy

Two experienced lift engineers told an inquest that they hadn't followed agreed safety procedures on the day one of their colleagues was trapped and died on a maintenance job at a factory in Shropshire.

Muller's factory in Market Drayton
Muller's factory in Market Drayton

Engineer Lewis James McFarlin, aged 24, of Cheadle Road, Stoke-on-Trent, died of multiple traumatic injuries after being trapped between a lift and a wall at the Muller factory in Market Drayton on January 14, 2020.

Mr McFarlin had been part of a three-man team sent from contractor RJ Lifts to Muller to fix two lifts at the three-storey factory in the Tern Valley Business Park.

A third faulty lift, a two-tonne goods lift, had been added to the list for them to look at after they had fixed the first two.

"The lift started moving and I heard James shouting whoa, whoa, whoa," said senior engineer Richard Fuller, who had been trained to NVQ Level 4 and had 21 years of experience with lifts. He had been to Muller many times, as had Mr McFarlin and their apprentice, Ryan Wintle.

Mr Fuller told the jury that he had been working inside the lift while Mr McFarlin had been operating controls while crouching on top of the steel lift, in the shaft.

The inquest was told that at some point as he was standing on the lift it moved suddenly and unexpectedly and Mr McFarlin became trapped between the lift and the lift wall where he sustained fatal injuries.

Under cross-examination Mr Fuller told the jury of six men and three women that there had been a miscommunication between him and Mr McFarlin which meant that normal safety warning procedures had not been carried out. Mr Fuller said his colleague was a "very capable and good engineer."

Under questioning by Tim Pole, a barrister representing Muller, Mr Fuller said safety signage had not been put in place on the three floors covered by the L14 lift in the production area.

When asked whether a safety test had been carried out to make sure that the lift was in "inspection mode," Mr Fuller said: "I can't remember. I think we did but I can't categorically say we did."

The inquest heard that the 4.5m-wide, 2m-deep hydraulic goods only lift could only be moved by Mr McFarlin, who had controls on its roof. From there he could report what the problem was to Mr Fuller, who would fix it.

Then apprentice Mr Wintle, who received his NVQ Level 3 qualification a few weeks after the incident, told the inquest that he was unable to remember key details of the day.

But he had provided a statement to the Heath & Safety Executive (HSE), which has been leading investigations into the accident.

And under cross-examination from Mr Pole, he said safety procedures had been tested to make sure that the lift could not be called while it was in "inspection mode".

But Mr Wintle agreed with a statement he made to the HSE on January 21, 2020 that Mr Fuller had told Mr McFarlin to "put it into normal" when the lift was meant to stay in inspection mode.

The lift was sent up and also came down in inspection mode, the court heard.

Neil Groom, of Muller, told the inquest that he had asked the engineers to fix the raw materials lift, which had suffered "ongoing problems".

It wasn't on the usual repairs booking document, and James Bloor, the company's maintenance leader at the time said it was "not the normal" to ask contractors to do other jobs while on the site but they were known to be "good engineers."

Senior Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin coroner John Ellery, who was sitting at Shirehall, in Shrewsbury, on Wednesday, told the court that the inquest could finish tomorrow, or on Friday.

The inquest continues.

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