News

Ofwat announced that water companies in England and Wales are going to face the toughest crackdown on investor payouts since the privatisation of the water industry thirty years ago.

Over the last several years there has been widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of many water companies, including many high profile pollution incidents, such as sewage spills (£20m fine for Thames Water), as well as low quality of the water supplied, massive leaks in the piping system and high bills. The regulator wants the companies to invest billions of pounds into changes of the system to improve the supply, efficiently manage wastewater and reduce leaks.

Water bills are also to be cut by £50 over the period of the next five years.

The five-year assessment will come into force on 1 April 2020. Speaking of the action, Ofwat chief executive, Rachel Fletcher, said she was "firing the starting gun on the transformation of the water industry".

"Now water companies need to crack on, turn this into reality and transform their performance of the water industry for everyone".

BBC News reports that the latest announcement includes a tougher stance on the return on capital - a measure of the returns that can be paid to the investors - in part because of lower interest rates which make it cheaper to borrow to invest. Ofwat's decision to cut bills has its roots in water companies' own decision to load up with debt, pay generous dividends to shareholders (often via tax havens) and their failure to deliver service of sufficient quality.

An analysis performed for the Financial Times suggests that since privatisation the water companies have taken combined £51bn in debt, and paid out £56bn in dividends.

This announcement comes months after the Environment Agency published a report calling water companies to "clean up their act", as most water companies systems for pollution prevention, the resilience of supply, compliance with permits and self-reporting of pollution were "simply unacceptable".

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has pushed back the deadline for responses to its discussion paper on Northern Ireland's first ever Environment Strategy, giving readers more time to send in feedback.

Originally the response deadline was set to close on 23 December 2019, but this has now been pushed back to 5 February 2020.

Announcing the extension, Director of Regulatory and Natural Resources Policy, Dave Foster, has said that the department had received more than 800 responses so far: "We have been heartened by the level of engagement of both individuals and organisations with this very important issue. Detailed responses are coming in on a daily basis so given the considerable level of interest, we wanted to extend the public discussion period to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to take part."

He added: "We have received responses from people of all ages and we know that young people in particular are telling us how strongly they feel about the environment. To add further depth to our level of engagement with young people, we have organised a dedicated event to ensure their voices are heard and their ideas contribute to our plan to protect and enhance the environment for both this and future generations."

DAERA will publish a summary of the findings in spring 2020, before drafting the 'Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland'. This Strategy is intended to be high level and will require endorsement from a future Minister and Executive. 

Adrian Mulgrew was fined £10,000 after being convicted of multiple counts of waste offending.

Mr Mulgrew pleaded guilty at Dungannon Magistrates' Court to 10 different charges of waste offending. The offences occurred at a site he owned in Galbally.

Officers from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) had first visited the unlicensed site back in July 2016. They found large mounds of crushed glass and End of Life Vehicles (ELVs), as well as associated scrap metal parts on the site. From August 2016, through to January 2019, a further 10 visits took place. These revealed that whilst Mr Mulgrew had, in fact, removed both the ELVs and the crushed glass, other construction and demolition waste had been added to the site, and burning of waste had also taken place on site.

Parcel carrier, Fedex UK Ltd of Atherstone were fined £533,000 after an employee sustained serious injuries when struck by a fork lift.

On 2 November 2017, an employee was struck by a reversing fork lift truck when he walked across the depot at Burntwood Business Park. The employee was trapped under the fork lift truck and had to be freed by colleagues. He suffered serious arm fractures and soft tissue injuries to his legs, causing him to be off work for several months.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found inadequate segregation between fork lift truck vehicles and pedestrians in the workplace.

Despite a risk assessment having been undetaken at the site, it had failed to identify the importance of robust vehicle pedestrian segregation, particularly where fork lift truck operations were frequent.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and along with their fine were ordered to pay costs of £10,033.39. 

After the hearing, HSE inspector Wendy Campbell commented: "Those in control of work have a responsibility to provide safe methods of working and a safe working environment. Collisions between vehicles and pedestrians can be avoided if the workplace layout is properly planned, effectively segregated and suitable systems of work are introduced. If physical barriers and a suitable system of work had been in place, the injuries sustained by this employee could have been prevented."

Brian Finch trading as F E Finch Coaches was sentenced after a father-of-three, Wayne Lannon, was fatally crushed whilst working underneath a double decker bus. 

On 14 June 2017, Wayne Lannon, an employee of Brian Finch, was carrying out repairs underneath a double decker bus in the car park of Chester Zoo. The bus was supported by a hydraulic bottle jack, and on top of this, Mr Lannon had placed some wooden blocks underneath the stationary bus. The bus rolled backwards off the bottle jack, trapping Mr Lannon under the bus causing him to sustain fatal injuries.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed that the company did not have a safe system of work put in place for preventing the bus from moving. The parking brake had not been applied, and the bus was not chocked prior to Mr Lannon working underneath the bus.

Employer Brian Finch had failed to provide the proper training and instructions to Mr Lannon in both the venture of mechanical work, or in the safe lifting of vehicles, as well as about the types of repairs that were suitable to be made outside of the workshop. 

At Crew Magistrates' Court Brian Finch pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was sentenced to six months in custody, suspended for 18 months. He is also subject to a curfew for 30 weeks and ordered to pay the full costs of £9,381. 

Wayne's sister, Keeley Unsworth described how the loss of Wayne had left both his family and friends with 'shattered hearts'. She said: "Our brother was the greatest person. He was the perfect brother. Wayne always believed in speaking kindly, always believed in helping others. We are deeply saddened. His children will never feel or hear him again... we have no idea how we carry on, how we cope, how we live with the pain we are in." 

HSE inspector Lianne Farrington commented: "This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of Mr Finch to ensure there were adequate control measures in place, such as chocking the bus, and to implement safe systems of work. Had the company ensured that proper control measures were in place, Mr Lannon would not have lost his life."

A County Londonberry farmer and building contractor were both fined at Antrim Crown Court for breaches of health and safety regulations. 

Richard McClure, a farmer trading as McClure Farms from Coleraine, was fined £10,000 and S Higgins Construction Ltd, based at Knockloughrim, Magherfelt, were also fined £10,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order SI 1978/1039 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2016/146.

The Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) investigated an incident at McClure Farms on 16 November 2018. A 23-year-old employee of S Higgins Construction Ltd was assisting with preparations for the construction of a concrete reinforced wall at the farm of Richard McClure. During this work, a large metal shuttering panel fell onto the employee as he was working close to its base. The employee sustained numerous fractures and injuries as a result.

The investigation revealed that the shuttering panel was not correctly secured, in such a way that would prevent it from falling over.

Following the hearing, Mr Kevin Campbell, an inspector with HSENI's Construction Team, commented: "All construction work needs to be properly planned. Farmers must engage contractors with appropriate skill, knowledge and experience, and all work must be carried out in a safe manner. All temporary supports, such as shattering panels, must be adequately supported and secured, to prevent them falling over." 


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