Water company fined £733k after fitter suffered fatal burns

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Yorkshire Water Services Ltd has been fined £733,000 after a fitter suffered fatal burns when his clothing was ignited by sparks.

Michael Jennings was working in the bottom of a dry well, a designated confined space, in July 2015.

The well was on the end of the disused lane 1 of the brewery trade waste treatment plant at Tadcaster sewage treatment works.

It was the only Yorkshire Water Services effluent treatment plant to use oxygen gas injection to assist the clean-up process, Leeds Crown Court was told.

Mr Jennings and a colleague were changing the stop valve on the end of the disused Lane 1 drain pipe which emerged into the bottom of the dry well.

Mr Jennings was using an angle grinder to cut through corroded bolts when sparks flew on to his overalls, which burst into flames.

He suffered whole body burns and died in Pinderfields Hospital two days later.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation found that the drain valve was half-opened and the atmosphere within the dry well was oxygen-enriched, greatly increasing the risk of fire.

It also found that a near miss report had been recorded at the same location in September 2014. Employees had found it to be heavily oxygen-enriched and had alerted local managers to the problem.

Following the near-miss, the company investigated but reached the wrong conclusion that the enrichment was due to residual oxygen. This had implications for future work in that the company proceeded on the basis there was no further risk of  oxygen enrichment within lane 1.

The HSE investigation showed that the company’s risk assessment and permit to work procedures had been inadequate. There were no site-specific procedures in place and the generic risk assessment template form did not include oxygen enrichment as a possible hazard.

Employees on the day of the incident were not familiar with the site. Nor were they aware of the September 2014 near-miss. They did not have the knowledge or experience to recognise that oxygen-enrichment of the dry well was a potential hazard.

Yorkshire Water Services Ltd of Western House, Bradford, admitted health and safety breaches and was fined £733,000 with £18,818 costs.

Aafter the hearing, HSE inspector John Micklethwaite said: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement an adequate and effective safe system of work for work in a confined space.

“Those in control of work activities have a duty to identify hazards that could arise, to eliminate or to mitigate them, and to devise suitable safe systems of work. The risk assessment process is central to this role.

“The employer also has a duty to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to his workers, and to provide an appropriate level of supervision to ensure that the work can be carried out safely and without risks to health.”