A Marong man who was trapped in a chicken shed fire, the only exit blocked by the blaze, is suing his former employer for negligence.
Stanley Boulton, 55, was working at the Hy-Line chicken farm in Huntly when a fire destroyed one of its large chicken sheds on April 9, 2010.
Mr Boulton was trapped inside and was certain he would die.
With no emergency exits, he was forced to rip a hole in the shed’s floorboards to escape.
He suffered a burnt throat and says he has ongoing breathing and psychological problems.
In the Bendigo sitting of the Victorian Supreme Court yesterday, Mr Boulton launched a civil action, seeking compensation for those injuries.
Mr Boulton is suing his former employer Hy-Line Australia Pty Ltd as well as Adept Building and Construction Pty Ltd, the company whose employees allegedly started the shed fire.
Mr Boulton’s lawyer James Mighell SC said two employees of Adept had been working at the 50m by 20m two-storey shed immediately before the fire.
Mr Mighell said the pair was doing welding work, installing new stairs, landings and railings next to the shed’s only external pedestrian door.
He said it was the plaintiff’s case the welding work had sparked the fire, and this was supported by evidence from the CFA fire investigators.
Mr Mighell said site safety protocols were not followed by Adept, someone was supposed to be on “fire watch” when any “hot work” was carried out.
He said Hy-Line had also breached its “duty of care” as Mr Boulton’s employer and had been negligent for a number of reasons.
“Employers should provide a safe workplace, they can’t delegate that to someone else, for example a contractor who comes in to do welding work,” he said.
“We have a shed lined with spray on polystyrene which is highly flammable, when you are welding you have sparks going everywhere.
“The shed had only one means of entry and exit. If you are in a shed that’s 50 metres long and the exit is down one end then that is unsafe.”
The court heard both Hy-Line and Adept would be denying negligence.
Hy-Line will argue any negligence that is proven was contributed to by Adept.
Adept’s position is it didn’t cause the fire, the man carrying out the welding work was a contractor not an employee so therefore not its responsibility.
The civil matter is listed for the next two weeks.
Six jurors, guided by Justice Katharine Williams, will determine if either party was negligent and if so what appropriate compensation to Mr Boulton would be.
The jurors toured Hy-Line’s Huntly farm yesterday.
At the time of the fire, Hy-Line employed about 70 staff, with 25 sheds and more than 200,000 birds.
The fire caused $1 million in damage and killed 4500 chickens.