Man Died Whilst Trapped in Hoist
Friday, 12th March 2010
Newport Coroner's Court has returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of a disabled man who asphyxiated after becoming trapped in a hoist. Mr Michael Powell, 54, who suffered from paralysis following a motorbike accident in 1975, became tangled in the mechanical hoist. The hoist had been due an inspection a month prior to Mr Powell’s death but no inspection had taken place. The local Council has launched a review to examine procedures.
A post-mortem found that Mr Powell died from positional asphyxia. He was also found to have been drinking, having consumed over double the drink-drive limit, and this was judged to have been a factor in the victim’s death. Nicholas Powell discovered his brother’s body suspended in the frame when, having been unable to make telephone contact, he went to his home the following day.
The hoist appears to have failed as Mr Powell tried to lower himself into his bed at home. The reason why the hoist failed is unclear, but it is suspected that there was either a loose connection or that the handheld controller, having become loose, fell beyond Mr Powell’s reach. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Mr Powell became trapped in the sling whilst struggling to recover the handheld controller. Having become stuck Mr Powell had no means of summoning assistance.
Following the end of his marriage, Mr Powell, described to the inquest as “fiercely independent”, elected to live alone. Confined to a wheelchair as a result of his accident, he spent 25 years moving himself manually until the stress on his shoulder necessitated the installation of a ceiling track hoist in 2000. Although the hoist he used was supposed to be operated by a carer, the Court heard that: "Mr Powell refused all offers of care. He was very happy with the hoists when they were installed as they allowed him to remain as independent as possible and, most importantly, remain in his own home without carers. He was assessed as independent and safe in his ability to use the slings and hoist."
A spokesperson for the HSE gave evidence regarding the "poor condition" of the handheld controller which had fallen from the cable which attached it to the hoist. He added: "There was a significant risk the controller could inadvertently drop to the floor while Mr Powell was in the hoist. It's most likely the hoist malfunctioned because the controller was dropped."
A spokesperson for Newport Council said: "A review is already under way relating to people who live alone and are supplied with equipment such as hoists or bath lifts. We will await the coroner's recommendations and consider any further action required."
The Coroner, Mr David Bowen, declared that, "Newport Council should carry out an immediate assessment of all disabled patients who have use of hoists such as this without the assistance of carers to ensure they are supplied with some emergency means of summoning help. It seems to me that if Mr Powell had one of these emergency buttons he could have summoned help. He had no means of such help at all." Mr Bowen said that he would write to Newport council requesting that lone users of similar hoists be given neck pendants so they could call for help in an emergency. He went on: "Mr Powell would have been panicking and goodness knows what was going through his mind."