A SERVICE engineer was crushed to death beneath a supermarket goods lift after removing a “bung” in its hydraulics while he was underneath it, a fatal accident inquiry has heard.

Former soldier Kenneth Heron, 51, from Tranent, had been carrying out routine maintenance on the “scissor” lift, used to transfer goods between two levels in a storeroom at the Co-op store in Bridgend, Perth.

The probe, at Stirling Sheriff Court, heard that he might have been trying to “bleed” the system.

The tragedy was witnessed by a shop assistant, Ruth Sutherland, who happened to enter the storeroom at the moment the lift platform collapsed, trapping Mr Heron beneath it.

The incident occurred at about 7.17am on October 11, 2019.

Miss Sutherland ran to get help and staff called emergency services.

East Lothian Courier: The incident took place at the Co-op at Bridgend, Perth. Image: Google Maps

The incident took place at the Co-op at Bridgend, Perth. Image: Google Maps

Mr Heron was freed by firefighters and airlifted to Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, where he died six days later.

A postmortem revealed that he had suffered “unsurvivable” neurological damage due to traumatic asphyxia as a result of entrapment beneath the lift.

The inquiry heard that Mr Heron, a mechanical handling services engineer employed by maintenance company Wanzl UK since March 2018, had just completed planned preventative maintenance on the Danish-built lift, including cleaning and greasing, but then found it would not re-start.

After checking the electrics, he went under the lift and loosened the “blanking bung” on a hydraulic manifold valve, causing hydraulic oil to be expelled from the system, squirting at pressure more than a metre across the room and resulting in the lift table collapsing on top of him.

Safety expert Colin Craney told the inquiry last Thursday that removing the blanking plug “was always going to cause catastrophic failure”.

Mr Craney said: “He was trying to get the lift going again. He may have thought there was air in the system causing the problem and, by doing what he was doing, albeit incorrect, he could bleed the air.

'No putting the genie back in the bottle'

“A jet of oil from the manifold valve was found to have splashed on cardboard boxes a metre away.

“In those conditions, there was no possibility of him getting the plug back into that orifice.

“Once the plug was out, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle.”

He added that Mr Heron should not have gone underneath the platform without supporting it with props or jacks.

Procurator fiscal depute Lixia Sun said: “Investigations found that the incident occurred because Mr Heron opened a hydraulic port on the lift, while the lift platform, which was above his head and shoulders, was being supported by the hydraulic system.

“This resulted in an escape of hydraulic oil, allowing the platform to collapse onto him.”

No defects were found on the lift which could have caused or contributed to the incident.

'No one knows what happened'

The inquiry heard that Mr Heron might have intended to loosen the plug only slightly to release trapped air.

Sheriff Derek Hamilton said: “The evidence is that it was turned and, as it was turned further, it explodes out.

“We’ve had an analogy of bleeding a radiator.

“No one knows what happened. There may be many possible scenarios.”

Married Mr Heron served in the British Army for about 12 years, including a six-month tour in Bosnia.

Prior to joining Wanzl UK, he had been a part-time postman.

The evidence stage closed after five days of hearing from witnesses.

The inquiry will continue on June 20 with legal submissions, after which Sheriff Hamilton will give his determination in writing.