Updated Dec 13, 2019

Company sentenced following a serious incident in the sewer

A waste and wastewater company has been fined following an incident in which three workers were carried along a sewer following the collapse of a 150-year-old sewer gate.

Westminister Magistrates' Court heard that in August 2017, three workers were carrying out preparatory work in a sewer for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is controlled by Thames Water Utilities Limited. 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 affected mentally. One worker has been treated for long-term traumatic stress because of the incident, which has prevented him from continuing work in his specialised career.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Thames Water Utilities Limited 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, were not available for use which resulted in the failure.

Thames Water Utilities Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Confined Spaces Regulations SI 1997/1713, were fined £300,000 and instructed to pay costs of £16,419.

HSE inspector James Goldfinch said "this serious incident endangered 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".