Thames Water Utilities fined £300k after serious sewer incident

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Wastewater company, Thames Water Utilities, has been fined £300,000 after three workers were carried along a sewer following the collapse of a 150-year-old sewer gate

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 29 August 2017, three workers were carrying out preparatory work in a sewer for the Thames Tideway Tunnel at East Greenwich, which is controlled by Thames Water Utilities Limited (TWUL).

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 worker has been treated for the long-term traumatic stress because of the incident which has prevented him from continuing work in his specialised career.

HSE investigation

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered that Thames Water Utilities Limited (TWUL) had planned individual work activities but 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.

Due to an unrelated planned power outage, sewage pumps vital to the control of sewage levels for the work being undertaken at East Greenwich were not available for use which resulted in the failure.

Thames Water Utilities Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and was fined £300,000 and instructed to pay costs of £16,419.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector James Goldfinch, 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.”

Confined spaces regulations 1997

In these regulations, unless the context otherwise requires – “confined space” means any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk.

3(1)(b): Every employer shall – ensure compliance, so far as is reasonably practicable, with the provisions of these regulations in respect of any work carried out by persons other than his employees insofar as the provisions relate to matters which are within his control.

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