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GAS EXPLOSION INVESTIGATION CLEARS ALL PARTIES

‘Low risk’ gas main caused injury and devastation in town centre

An HSE investigation report into the explosion in Shrewsbury town centre on 3 January 2010 has been published today (25.01.2011).

The explosion resulted in six people suffering major injury and left others with minor injuries. Properties in the area sustained significant damage.

A major finding of the report is that the investigation “revealed no evidence of any breach of relevant safety legislation and consequently HSE will not be taking any enforcement action in this case”. The HSE investigation concluded that:

  • Mains gas leaked from a fractured low pressure cast iron gas main located in the footway immediately in front of 1-5 Bridge Street;
  • The gas accumulated within 1-5 Bridge Street and was ignited by a source within the building leading to the explosion;
  • Stresses imposed by the local ground conditions near to the main may have contributed to the unpredicted failure of the main;
  • There is no evidence of failures by the pipeline operator or any other company or individual to warrant prosecution.
Failed gas main categorised as ‘low risk’

Gas operators are legally required by to maintain the networks in a safe condition. Many older gas mains are made from cast iron, a programme is in place to decommission and replace it with new polyethylene (yellow) pipes.

The lead HSE investigating Inspector Nicola Wade said:

“This has been a complex investigation, involving many hours of work and forensic analysis to understand exactly what happened on 3 January 2010.

The most likely cause of the explosion is that gas escaped from the fractured gas main and ignited nearby, despite no previous reports of a gas leak in the area. The gas main was correctly classified as low risk, it had been subject to stresses over time, causing a fracture.

I would like to thank all those who assisted with the investigation, in particular those injured in the explosion and their families. West Mercia Police, Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service and Shropshire County Council were crucial in coordinating the rescue effort and making the area safe, allowing further investigation and repair work to be completed.”

Comment

This incident resulted in serious injury to six members of the public and major damage to property. The consequences could  have been much worse. The cast iron gas main involved was classified as ‘low risk’.

The report is silent on adequacy of the risk categorisation system or what changes might be made to reduce the chances of such an incident in future. Those living in the vicinity of  ‘low risk’ cast iron gas mains will remain exposed to the possibility of ‘high consequences’ until the replacement programme is complete.  

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