A sheriff has ruled a Fife dredger master’s death could have been prevented if “defects in the system of working” had been addressed.
The sheriff also said she was unsure if there was “a culture of covering up” as two employees were sacked for lying about another accident days before.
Brian Smith died just before 4pm while he was working at Rosyth‘s Dock M on February 28 in 2019.
Mr Smith sustained fatal head, neck and chest injuries after stepping from grab hopper dredger the “MV Cherry Sand” towards the quay, with his foot either just missing the quay or slipping off it.
He struck the quay with his upper body and was crushed between the quay and the vessel, falling onto chains on the dock and landing in the Forth.
The 72-year-old had been climbing over the bulwark when the vessel was about three metres away from the quay, not complying with instructions to step inboard and stepping from the Cherry Sand towards the quay when about a metre and a half away from it, without permission from the bridge to do so.
An earlier probe labelled Mr Smith’s death as preventable.
The court heard there had been a recent accident on the Cherry Sand prior to
relief master Mr Smith’s accident which had involved a worker sustaining an injury while disembarking during self-mooring procedures.
The Cherry Sand, usually based in the Humber, had been brought up to Rosyth only a week before as UK Dredging had been awarded a contract to dredge a channel in the dock before the arrival of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Mr Smith had been recruited through an agency as the usual relief master on the ship was attending a training course.
The inquiry heard a meeting had been called on the morning Mr Smith died because there had been a recent incident on the Cherry Sand involving the other crew, in which the ship’s mate had fallen and fractured his wrist.
This incident had been falsely reported as having occurred as a result of the man falling down steps.
It was subsequently discovered it had happened when the mate had been stepping ashore across a fender, contrary to company policy.
The master and the mate who had lied to cover up the cause of the accident both lost their jobs.
Presiding, Sheriff Lorna Drummond QC reported: “I do not know if the earlier incident was indicative of a culture of covering up.”
She found “the direct cause of the accident was Mr Smith’s actions”.
The sheriff ruled the “generic risk assessment” used by UK Dredging “was not applicable to the Cherry Sand”.
The sheriff added: “Since Mr Smith’s death there have been a series of reviews which have addressed the precautions and defects that I have identified above.
“UKD rules and MCA guidance now provide that crew should not step ashore until the vessel is secured.
“Following the submissions made and my analysis of the evidence, I find that the precautions set out above could reasonably have been taken and, had they been taken, might realistically have resulted in the death, or accident resulting in the death, being avoided.
“I also find that the defects in the system of working contributed to the death.
“I wish to express my sincere condolences to Mr Smith’s family
and friends for their tragic loss.”