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Company sentenced following serious incident in sewer

A water and wastewater company has been fined after an incident where three workers were carried along a sewer after a 150-year-old sewer gate collapsed.

20 January 2020

The court heard that the three workers were carrying out preparatory work in a sewer when a 150-year-old cast iron penstock failed engulfing the workers and carrying them along the sewer. The three workers suffered minor physical injuries but have been mentally affected. One of the workers has been treated for the long-term traumatic stress caused by the incident which has prevented him from continuing work in his specialised career.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had planned individual work activities but had failed to properly coordinate these as the permission and authorisation system was fragmented. The company had no effective means of collating, comparing and adapting to the impact of multiple work activities.

The failure was caused by an unrelated planned power outage which caused sewage pumps to fail which were vital to the control of sewage levels for the work being undertaken.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3 of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and was fined £300,000 and instructed to pay costs of £16,419.

A representative of the HSE said: “This serious incident endangered the lives of three workers and caused lasting adverse mental health effects; the workers narrowly avoided death by drowning in sewage.

“It should serve as a warning and a reminder to all those that work in confined spaces that work in these challenging environments must be properly planned, coordinated and managed.”

If you require any assistance or further assistance or guidance on implementing control measures for the hazards in your work place such as confined spaces, please get in touch.

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