The manager of a Fife animal rescue centre died following exposure to a deadly lung disease after a string of safety breaches by the SSPCA.
Sandra Bonar was diagnosed with Extinsic Allergic Alveolitis (EAA) in 2000 and died in 2010 from complications associated with the condition.
It is caused by exposure to avian allergens from birds’ droppings and feathers.
Ms Bonar had been manager at Middlebank Wildlife Centre in Fife run by Scotland’s major animal welfare charity, the SSPCA.
The charity has admitted failing to protect the wellbeing of its own workers for years and was brought to court as a defendant for the first time in its 178-year history.
Depute fiscal Gavin Callaghan said Ms Bonar had been diagnosed with EAA and died in 2010 “from complications associated with EAA”.
However, the charity has not been convicted of causing any actual harm to employees, as was pointed out by defence QC Peter Gray, who also highlighted the “vital public service” the SSPCA performs.
Mr Gray said the society was “a conscientious employer” and that the breaches of health and safety obligations were “wholly out of character”.
“It has a good safety record and took robust steps to address its admitted failings. It was not a deliberate breach or a breach made with a view to cost-cutting,” he added.
Middlebank, which closed in 2012, was widely praised for its work in the rehabilitation of injured animals such as oiled birds, rescued from the sea.
But a series of inspections carried out by Fife Council’s environmental health department and the Health and Safety Executive, found shortcomings.
Between 2006 and 2012, staff at Middlebank were put at risk of contracting EAA and sufficient safeguards were not in place to prevent or control exposure.
Although the charges admitted do not include causing any actual harm to employees, Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard Sandra Bonar succumbed to issues around the condition.
Inspectors found a string of failings, including workers not being supplied with the appropriate protective equipment such as face-masks and overalls.
The SSPCA admitted offences committed on various dates between November 1 2006 and April 30 2009, and between July 1 2011 and April 30 2012, at the Dunfermline centre.
It breached health and safety procedures by failing to take suitable measures or assessments to prevent or control the exposure of employees to hazardous substances.
It failed to provide personal protective equipment, including respiratory suitable gear and air ventilation, filtration or extraction systems.
Between November 1 2006 and November 12 2008, it failed to provide suitable health surveillance arrangements to enable it to fully monitor its employees for any harmful effects of exposure to avian allergens and did not provide adequate training for employees were exposed to avian allergens.
Sheriff Craig McSherry deferred sentence until 17th May.
Founded in 1839, the SSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK recognised as a reporting agency to the Crown Office and its inspectors can enforce animal welfare law.