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Contractor and utilities firm fined £1.2m after gas main ignited

8 November 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

A contractor and a utilities firm have been fined a combined total of more than £1.2m after two workers were injured when construction workers damaged a gas main and it ignited.

Folkestone Magistrates Court heard how on 27 May 2016, Southern Gas Network (SGN) employees were called to a gas escape at Thanet Way in Whitstable, Kent. The gas escape had been caused by employees of Cliffe Contractors damaging a medium pressure polyethylene gas main during construction work.

During the repair by Southern Gas Networks the gas ignited causing the injuries to two SGN employees. One worker suffered severe burns while the other sustained cuts and bruises.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Cliffe Contractors had not followed safe digging techniques when excavating around the pipeline resulting in the gas main being damaged by an excavator.

Subsequently, SGN did not follow their own procedures or recognised safe systems of work when repairing the main.

Southern Gas Networks of Station Approach in Horley, who had pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at an earlier hearing, was fined £1.2million and ordered to pay costs of £18,975.43.

Cliffe Contractors of Anthony’s Way in Rochester who had pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at an earlier hearing was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,689.13.

HSE principal specialist inspector Martin Wayland said: “This incident, in which a worker could have easily been killed, could have been avoided if safe excavation by Cliffe Contractors had been carried out and safe mains repair policies had been followed by SGN. Both companies were aware of the precautions that were required to be taken.

“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards”

Comments

The HSE's own advice is that when digging with a mechanical excavator near low/medium pressure gas pipes go no closer than 500mm. This advice needs changing as 500mm is far too close with a huge foreseeability of risk.

Michael Norton BEM MInstRE, 8 November 2018

500mm is too far away, no wonder people ignore it!!!

Mindaugas Burba, 10 November 2018

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