Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that, on 29th August 2017, three workers were carrying out preparatory work in a sewer for the Thames Tideway Tunnel project in Greenwich.
When a 150-year-old cast iron penstock failed, the workers were engulfed and carried along the sewer. They suffered minor physical injuries but were mentally affected, with one suffering long-term traumatic stress that has prevented him going back to working in sewers.
An investigation by the Health & 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 at East Greenwich were not available for use which resulted in the failure.
Thames Water Utilities Limited of Clearwater Court, Reading, Berkshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997. It was fined £300,000 and instructed to pay costs of £16,419.
HSE inspector James Goldfinch said after the hearing: “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.”