Fatal march officer had ‘no formal training’ on health and safety, inquest told

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An experienced Army officer who ran the course on which a soldier fatally collapsed on a hot day has told an inquest he had no formal health and safety training.

Corporal Joshua Hoole, described as “fit, capable and determined”, died within an hour of collapsing during an annual fitness test (AFT) at Brecon, Wales on July 19, 2016.

The death of the 26-year-old, of Ecclefechan near Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, came three years after three Army reservists suffered fatal heat illness during an SAS selection march in the Brecon Beacons.

An inquest into Cpl Hoole’s death has already heard soldiers were aware it was to be “the hottest day of the year” and the march start time was brought forward, due to the weather.

Corporal Josh Hoole funeral
The coffin of Corporal Josh Hoole is carried into Crichton Memorial church in Dumfries for his funeral by colleagues and his brother Tyrone (right). (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He criticised the Ministry of Defence (MOD) during the inquest for “blaming individuals”.

Capt Nufer signed off a risk assessment for the march and was asked about his understanding of a key Army health and safety document, which talks about heat injuries, known as JSP 539.

Senior coroner Louise Hunt asked Capt Nufer if he had ever had any training on how to produce a written risk assessment, including mitigating for heat illness.

The inquest previously heard from a heat illness expert that the assessment’s risk rating had been “calculated incorrectly”.

Capt Nufer said: “I had no formal (risk assessment) training on anything to do with activities.”

The officer added that the only formal training he ever had was to do with building safety.

He added that when he took over the position in charge of the training team earlier in 2016, nothing in the handover from his predecessor talked about producing risk assessments.

He said that he had had no formal training on JSP 539 either, although he read a copy after it was referred to in an internal email earlier in 2016 off the back of the three reservists’ deaths during SAS selection.

Capt Nufer said: “I did know it existed – I wasn’t familiar with it, and I wasn’t trained to interpret it.”

He took a “common sense” approach and applied his experience and the advice of others as to whether an activity like an AFT should be stopped for health and safety reasons.

When the coroner then asked who he believed was in charge of the AFT march, he said it was the physical training instructor or PTI, Rifleman Keith Macguire, “for that particular event” as he was the “subject matter expert” (SME).

He added that the PTI had been “content” with the risk assessment, before the march set off.

Capt Nufer was also asked about the requirement to check a key temperature gauge, the wet bulb globe thermometer (WGBT) before setting out on the AFT.

The inquest has already heard that exercises should neither start not be continued if the gauge, measuring heat and humidity and located outside the gym at Dering Lines, hits 20C.

Evidence has previously been heard that by 8.30am, 22 minutes before Cpl Hoole’s collapse, the temperature was at 20C at Dering Lines and the march should have stopped.

But nobody on the march was in direct communication with the base.

Ms Hunt asked: “Did you check WBGT before you went out?”

Capt Nufer replied “no”, adding “when we arrived, I encouraged the PTI to touch base with the gym and I assume that is what he did”.

The inquest has heard Mr Macguire later told investigators he did not carry out the check, admitting it was “lazy” of him not to.

Asked if was aware of the 20C limit at the time, Capt Nufer said he was “unsure” and relied on the PTI for such knowledge.

He said: “In absolute honesty, I was unsure of what those limits were and I rely on the SME as to what, where and how those limits apply.”

He added that whenever he was informed of a drop-out along the route he also “passed it on to the PTI”, and was only acting as one of several “sweepers”, collecting any stragglers on the march.

Later, he was asked questions by the Ministry of Defence’s barrister Dijen Basu QC but Capt Nufer began by saying “I wish to assist the inquiry but I’m going to find it very difficult to answer.

“I don’t trust him or the people he represents.”

Capt Nufer then responded to nearly every one of Mr Basu’s questions with: “I’m sorry sir, I will not answer your questions.”

Later, he added: “The gentleman made quite a few references to the commanders’ guide.

“If the MOD are making references to documents, I think it is fair they ensure commanders are aware of those documents and subsequently train commanders for all levels, not simply blaming individuals for not knowing they exist or being trained on them.”

The inquest continues.

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