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MAJOR CONTRACTOR IN COURT OVER MASSIVE FIRE

Gas main welding work sparked fire sending 20-foot flames into sky

Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc have been prosecuted following a serious fire in Leeds that led to the evacuation of six homes, the closure of a major road and gas supplies being cut off today in September 2010.

Both firms “neglected basic safety measures” when a new section of gas mains was installed during a major construction project.

The court was told NGNO Ltd, which maintained the gas distribution system across the north of England, hired MSI plc to divert the gas mains on the Ring Road at Beeston. The work was being carried out to allow changes to the road layout. MSI plc was supervising but had sub-contracted parts of the project to two further firms.

The work involved installing a new section of gas mains to the existing system and welding work on the mains in an excavation. The gas mains had not been adequately isolated and sparks from the hot welding work ignited escaping gas.

HSE found two sub-contractors were competent in specific parts of the job but neither fully understood the overall work being carried out. The defendants failed to effectively plan the necessary work or provide the safety controls under which the work could be done.

Numerous failings in planning, organisation and execution of the work

Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd, of Thorpe Park Business Park, Colton, Leeds, and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc of Market Place, Westminster, London, both pleaded guilty to a single offence under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and were fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £8,453 in costs.

Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) was fined £50,000 with £12,900 in costs.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector Ian Redshaw said:

“Someone could have been killed or badly injured in this incident. Thankfully no one was hurt, but this was a severe fire that was a danger to workers and local people.

There were numerous failings by both companies in the planning, organisation and execution of the work – most importantly the failure to consider and control the risks associated with welding near live gas mains.

When undertaking high hazard activities such as this, it is essential that the proper steps are taken to ensure that risks are fully considered and then controlled.

This type of activity is regularly undertaken in the gas industry and all the safety practices are well established and common knowledge in the industry. Thankfully incidents are rare, but if they do occur the consequences can be devastating.”

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