Waterlooville man killed in machinery '˜should still be here', inquest told

A WORKER who died when he became trapped in machinery at a composting site was a '˜lovely young man' who '˜should still be here', an inquest heard.

Thursday, 17th August 2017, 11:52 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:02 am

Toby Johns, of Elmeswelle Road in Waterlooville, died at the Runcton composting facility located off the A259 between Bognor Regis and Chichester on December 17 last year.

A jury inquest held in Crawley on Wednesday was told the 26-year-old most likely climbed into the compost screening machine while it was on to try to clear a blockage.

In a statement read out to the jury, pathologist Dr Olaf Biedrzycki said he believed his death was a result of positional asphyxiation.

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The inquest heard Mr Johns had been working at the site, run by the Woodhorn Group, for just over a year.

Patrick Harris, site manager at the Runcton facility, described finding Mr Johns’ body in the compost machine.

He said Mr Johns had phoned him while at home at around 11am to say one of the conveyor belts was blocked and he would have to pull the large cylinder screen out to fix it.

In a statement Mr Harris said: ‘Toby did not tell me that he was working alone but I told him not to try to unblock the machine, but just to put diesel in, to tidy up the yard and we would fix it on Monday.’

Mr Harris said later that day he received phone calls from Mr Johns’ fiancée, Jess, and then his father, Tony Johns, who also works for the company, to say Mr Johns had not been answering his phone.

Mr Harris said at about 3.45pm he drove to the site to find the screening machine running and saw Mr Johns’ legs hanging out the back.

He said he did not know why Mr Johns had climbed into the running machinery when he was ‘fully aware’ of the company’s safe-stop procedure to switch all machinery off and remove the key before attempting to clean it.

Russell Beckett, from the Health and Safety Executive, said no mechanical faults had been found with the machine.

Morgan Davies, waste recycling manager for the Woodhorn Group, said Mr Johns had received full training to use the compost machine and that employees were allowed to work alone, though there was usually at least two on site.

In a statement Mr Johns’ mother, Kim Johns, described her son as a ‘sociable and happy man’.

She said: ‘This incident has affected our life greatly, it was such a shock.

‘Toby was a happy man and he enjoyed life. He and his dad did so much together and he’s greatly missed by the whole family.’

Chief coroner for West Sussex, Penelope Schofield, is due to sum up the evidence today before the jury is sent out to consider its ruling.