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Thames fined for Tideway workers' injuries

Thames Water has been fined £300,000 after three workers were injured and suffered trauma relating to an incident in August 2017 in which they could have drowned in sewage.

In the incident, a part of the Tideway tunnel in East Greenwich flooded with effluent which swept the workers along when a sewer gate collapsed. The workers suffered mental health problems following the incident as well as having minor injuries. One worker was unable to carry on working because of the long-term traumatic stress caused by the incident.

The workers were carrying out preparatory work on the tunnel when an unrelated power outage prevented sewage pumps from controlling levels of sewage in the tunnel.

Thames pleaded guilty to the prosecution brought by Health and Safety Executive for breaching Regulation 3(1)(b) of Confined Regulations 1997. As well as the £300,000 fine Thames was ordered to pay £16,419 costs.

A company spokesperson said: “We very much regret what happened as the safety of all our employees, partners and customers is at the heart of how we do business. Following the incident, we offered as much support as we could to those affected and launched a full investigation to establish what went wrong and why, to reduce the risk of it ever happening again.

“As a result of that investigation, we’ve worked with the HSE and our contract partners to share our learning and introduce the water industry’s first Independent Authorising Body, which now has oversight and control of all entries into our sewer network. We’ve also strengthened our policies and procedures on confined space working and are using more technology to reduce the need for people to enter our sewers.”

Thames said it had recorded a 32 per cent reduction in injuries leading to absence from work this year.

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.”

Thames added it had five iron penstock gates closed and all diverting wastewater away from the works area before the failure of the asset which led to the sewage flooding.

By Ruth Williams

Topic: Sewer Networks , Skills & workforce

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