A DEVASTATED widow has spoken of her family’s loss after her husband fell to his death while working at Cleveland Bridge.

Catherine Poppleton fought back tears as she paid tribute her husband of 30 years Keith, who died following an industrial accident in October 2016 – just four days before the birth of his first grandchild.

The experienced electrician and college lecturer suffered fatal injuries when an unsecured panel on a crane walkway tilted and he fell to his death, an inquest heard.

The 54-year-old, of Tunstall Road, Stockton, had been working on a 25ft high overhead travelling crane at the company’s site on Yarm Road, Darlington, in 2016.

Speaking at his inquest, Mrs Poppleton said: “Keith was an incredibly conscientious worker and took immense pride in his work. We, his family, friends and colleagues had always known Keith to have had the highest regard and respect for health and safety, both in and out of the workplace.

“He was risk averse and this respect for safety was something which he practised as well as taught, and he laboured to instil this in his students for the future generations of workers.

“As some of you may know, Keith and I as well as his daughters were going through a difficult period at the time of his death and we were temporarily not in contact. This doesn’t reflect the life we had with Keith, myself and Keith were together for 35 years and married for 30 of those years – he was my soulmate.

“He was extremely proud of his daughters and really, really looking forward to being a grandad for the first time. It was heartbreaking that his granddaughter was born four days after he died.

“He proudly had on display at home the baby scans and was marking off the days on his calendar.

“Please can we remember that although we are here to look in to the reason Keith died, he was still a very much-loved husband, father, grandad, son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew and friend. He is and always will be missed dearly.”

During the two-day inquest Robert Marr, a specialist mechanical engineer for the Health and Safety Executive, told the hearing that only one clip that held the panel in place had ever been handed to investigators but added he would have expected two clips to be holding the maintenance panel in place.

“The panel had to be held static and fully supported on all four sides – that’s the crucial element,” he said. “There was no problem with the panel supporting someone of Keith’s size and weight, so then we started to move the panel as far left and as far right as we could which left it unsupported and what then happened was the panel tripped and someone could fall through.

“We then checked it again using the clips and found that it would have been deformed if the clips had been attached when the panel was unsupported – that wasn’t how we found the panel.”

The witness said he concluded that the panel had only one clip in place and it was not clamped in place correctly, which caused it to tilt and drop through the space.

Dominic Kay QC, the legal representative for Cleveland Bridge, questioned Mr Marr about the size of the opening on the walkway and whether it installation met manufacturers standards.

The engineering specialist said the measurements of the hole did not need manufacturing standard with one of the ledges, holding the panel in place, being more than 20mm short of the recommended 30mm.

Senior assistant coroner Crispin Oliver, sitting in County Durham and Darlington Coroner’s Court, asked Mr Marr whether it could have been a combination of Mr Poppleton’s size, his stride and where he stepped could have contributed to the incident, especially considering another worker had walked along the walkway on several occasions a few days earlier.

Mr Marr replied 'yes'.

HSE inspector Jonathan Wills said: “The incident could have been prevented if the clips supplied at the time of manufacture had been in place would have prevented the panel from flipping and falling through.”

Mr Kay asked what is the evidence that this walkway was supplied with clips at the time of manufacture?

Mr Wills conceded that there was no evidence but said that there should have been at least on clip attached.

The jury concluded the cause of the father-of-three’s death was an accident after he died from multiple injuries consistent with a fall.