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Drain clearing attempt caused brain damage

11 Jan The dangers of entering confined spaces, especially drains, have been highlighted by a case at Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court this week.

The worker was found unconscious in this chamber
The worker was found unconscious in this chamber

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has been fined £480,000 after a maintenance employee was found unconscious in an access chamber (manhole, in old-speak).

The man had been unblocking a drain at the hospital on 1st February 2022 when he was overcome by fumes.

After being discovered by other members of staff, he was rescued by Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service and treated at hospital for acute sulphate intoxication. This resulted in a traumatic brain injury and ongoing issues with memory loss and nerve damage.

A Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust failed to identify the manhole as a confined space and, thereafter, failed to properly assess the risks associated with the operation. The trust failed to prevent entry of employees into confined spaces at the site, which has been custom and practice for a number of years. The trust also failed to identify a safe system of work or method statement for clearing blocked drains and no precautions were identified to reduce the risk of injury.

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HSE’s investigation also highlighted that no confined space training was given to members of the estates team and insufficient information and instruction was provided to those involved as to the methods to be adopted, the risks involved and the precautions to be taken, when clearing drains and entering deep drains or manholes.

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, of Rothwell Road, Kettering, Northants, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £480,000 and ordered to pay £4,286.15 in costs at Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court on 9th January 2024.

HSE inspector Heather Campbell said: “This case highlights the dangers of working in confined spaces. The manhole should have been identified as a confined space, and risk assessed accordingly. Safe systems of work for entry into confined spaces should have been in place, such as those outlined in the HSE’s approved code of practice.”

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