A worker who fell 44ft from a silo gantry was 3.5 times the drink drive limit, though colleagues said he was behaving normally.
Paul Michael Ebbens, 57, of Church Row, Bury St Edmunds, fell from the gantry in February 2013 while checking the contents level in a general waste silo at Pauls Malt in Eastern Way, Bury, an inquest heard in the town on Wednesday.
Production manager Andrew Hawes described Mr Ebbens, who had worked there for 25 years, as ‘a good site worker’ and said he last spoke to him on a radio when he asked why the silo’s levels had not been checked by the normal time, But as Mr Hawes walked to another part of the site he saw the measuring tape used for the job on the ground.
“I walked up a couple of steps and saw Paul on the floor,” he said. He called an ambulance and gave chest compressions.
Terence Hills, production manager at the site which now operates under the name of Boortmalt, said Mr Ebbens was ‘a good and confident operator’ but said he had once had to suspend him from work when a colleague said he was acting strangely and they thought he was under the influence. However, when there was a difference of opinion among those who had met him that day so there was no follow up.
But when he went with Mr Ebbens’ brother to empty his locker five days after the accident they found an empty half-bottle of vodka and an unopened tin of gin and tonic.
Assistant coroner Dr Dan Sharpstone read a statement from Mr Ebbens’ GP Dr Ian Calder who said that while there had been a suggestion of significant alcohol use, the patient said he had reduced this.
Dr Sharpstone said a toxicology report revealed 280 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, where the drink-drive limit is 80 milligrams. The report said coma can occur at 200 to 300 milligrammes.
Anthony Brookes, a Health and Safety Executive inspector, said the silo gantry had no trip hazards. He added that there was no legislation or standard for guard rails though guidance said gaps between upper and lower rails should be no more than 500mm.
The rails at the top of the silo were 570mm apart but a specialist inspector agreed with his assessment that the rails were ‘sufficient to prevent a fall.’
He added: “It is likely Paul Ebbens fell from the top of the waste silo as a result of some other incapacitation.”
He said he had suggested mesh or fencing be added at points where staff worked on the gantries.
The jury’s conclusion was accidental death with a contributing factor being excess alcohol.
Boortmalt’s UK branch, Pauls Malt, said it would work with HSE following its suggestions. It added: “Pauls Malt Ltd is united with Mr Ebben’s family and friends in sharing the pain of their untimely loss of a loved one. The company would also like to thank its staff involved in trying to help their colleague.”