Farm slurry tank fumes death 'accidental'

Matthew Pitt was the father of an eight-month-old baby girl when he died

The death of a worker who tried to fix an anaerobic biodigester on a Dorset farm was accidental, a jury has found.

Matthew Pitt, 29, was overcome by fumes while working on the giant tank of slurry and farming waste at Lowbrook Farm, Belchalwell, in 2009.

He was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness.

The inquest at Bournemouth Town Hall heard he may have removed his mask and was poisoned by hydrogen sulphide gas.

Baby daughter

During the inquest, the jury was told Mr Pitt had been working alongside another man, David Bartlett, to remove the roof of the tank to fix a blockage.

How do anaerobic biodigesters work?

  • Organic material such as manure, crops or slurry is put into large containers
  • Once this material breaks down it produces biogas such as methane
  • The methane can be converted and fed into the National Grid
  • The by-product is called digestate which is used by farmers as a fertilizer

Mr Bartlett told the inquest that they were both wearing masks when they started the work.

After opening the seal, both men passed out, the court was told.

Mr Bartlett said that when he regained consciousness he was not wearing his mask.

He looked over to his colleague and saw that he was not wearing his mask either.

Mr Bartlett ran for help and Mr Pitt, from Sturminster Newton, was given CPR and airlifted to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Mr Pitt's parents, Jan and Ray, said in a statement after the verdict: "We have heard evidence of the lack of care and responsibility towards Matthew, and from those he worked with, and for, on that fateful day.

"In Matthew's case, it was clear that his task should have been undertaken by suitably qualified and experienced people.

The anaerobic biodigester at Lowbrook Farm The £750,000 biodigester had been installed a year before the accident

"The real tragedy of this accident is that his daughter, Lauren, will grow up not knowing her daddy."

The £750,000 biodigester had been installed a year before the accident and worked by burning methane gas from rotting manure, crops or slurry to produce electricity.

But it also produced highly poisonous hydrogen sulphide, which smells like rotten eggs.

Mr Pitt had become a father eight months before he died.

A joint investigation by police and the Health and Safety Executive at the time found there was "insufficient evidence to support a prosecution for manslaughter or corporate manslaughter".

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