Borders foresty worker's death ruled to be a tragic accident

The Bowmont Forest site.The Bowmont Forest site.
The Bowmont Forest site.
The death of a veteran Borders forestry worker crushed by a fallen log was a tragic accident, a sheriff has ruled.

Andrew Marshall, 71, died from a head injury and compression of his chest after becoming trapped under the log.

The accident, not witnessed by anyone, happened on a track about 150 yards from the disused Bowmont Forest Sawmill near Kelso on June 11, 2015.

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A Health and Safety Executive investigation found that there were no breaches of legislation contributing to the incident.

Mr Marshall regularly visited the sawmill even after retiring as a long-serving forester from Floors Farms, part of Roxburghe Estates, to fell trees and cut up logs.

A fatal accident inquiry at Jedburgh Sheriff Court on Tuesday was told that the grandfather of three spoke to timber yard manager Andrew Agnew, 52, on the morning of his death to ask about being allowed the use of a forklift to remove a large log from the top of the pile which had become dislodged.

Mr Agnew said he would assist after lunch but when he arrived at the log pile shortly after 2pm, he saw Mr Marshall’s white pick-up truck was already at the location and thought he must have changed his mind and decided to move it himself.

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He explained: “When I got closer, I could see him lying at the side of the pick-up with the log – I assume which was the one he wanted to move – on top of him.

“I went back down the track to the sawmill and said to a colleague who was working in the yard that I thought Andrew had been killed and to phone 999.”

Mr Agnew recalled how Mr Marshall had asked him for help moving the log earlier, saying: “It is better lying on the ground than lying on me.”

Timber contractor Thomas Heatlie, 57, who had built the 6ft-high log pile a year before the accident estimated that about 30 or 40% of the stack had been cut away, making it unstable.

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Estate forestry manager Peter Darling, 56, said Mr Marshall was a regular visitor, carrying out tree work to get logs for extra cash, but he added: “I did not expect him to go onto that particular pile and cut them up.

“There has been work on both ends of it, and it has undermined the pile of logs.”

Mr Darling said he had previously agreed that the pile of logs would be moved by Mr Heatlie back into the yard as it would be safer to work on it there.

Depute fiscal Rosie Cook said Mr Marshall’s life was pronounced extinct by a paramedic at 3pm.

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She said Mr Marshall had carried out work on the stack earlier that day, removing a number of logs.

Ms Cook added: “The removal of the logs caused the log pile to become unsteady and trap Mr Marshall underneath it.

“If he had gone ahead with a risk assessment and not worked alone, the accident may have been avoided.”

In his determination, sheriff Peter Paterson said: “This was clearly a tragic accident.

“Mr Marshall was a well-liked and experienced forester.”

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He said the cause of death was effectively concussion and compression to the chest due to the falling of the log.

The sheriff continued: “I am satisfied that if Mr Marshall had adhered to his original view to allow the large log on the top of the pile to be removed by the forklift, then the accident, in all probability, would not have occurred.”

He said no fault should be attributed to Roxburgh Estates or specifically Floors Forestry for the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Marshall, of Heiton, near Kelso.

The 71-year-old’s family said afterwards that they had no issues with the outcome of the inquiry and described his death as a “freak accident”.