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WATER FIRM FINED £1.8M AFTER WORKER DROWNED

Workman fell through opening into sand filtration tank

Truro Crown Court has heard how a South West Water catchment operator Robert Geach, was working on the sand filtration unit of the Falmouth Waste Water Treatment Works on 30 December 2013 when a colleague discovered him face down in water. He died at the scene having drowned.

Mr Geach was last seen working on the top of the unit several hours before he was found by his colleague who was responding to the lone worker system.

HSE investigators found the company failed to identify the risk of drowning associated with the maintenance activity undertaken by Mr Geach and his colleagues on a regular basis.

Hatch size could have been reduced

South West Water Ltd of Peninsula House, Rydon Lane, Exeter pleaded guilty of breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, was fined £1.8million and ordered to pay costs of £41,607.71.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Georgina Speake said:

“This tragic case could have been prevented if the company had reduced the size of the hatch used to access the sand filters, and properly considered the hazards of the operation, including how close Mr Geach was to the water.

Mr Geach was exposed to the risk of drowning which could have been easily been controlled if the task had been properly planned and simple measures adopted earlier which South West Water failed to do so adequately.”

Sentencing South West Water, Judge Robert Linford said:

“Robert Geach drowned in a sand filtration tank at the waste water treatment works at Falmouth docks. His death was caused by the failure of South West Water to ensure he was safe at work.

The danger of people falling into tanks was pointed out to South West Water on a number of occasions and the fact that something needed to be done to address it. It was an accident waiting to happen and it happened and a family has been devastated as a consequence.

Although the opening Mr Geach fell into was small, the risk was a very real one. That said South West Water could not have been more co-operative with the Health and Safety Executive in their investigation and has taken steps to rectify failings. It has championed a new and extremely effective Lone Worker System. But a substantial fine must be passed to show that health and safety failures are serious matters.”

Invested in new equipment and technologies

South West Water Managing Director Dr Stephen Bird said:

“Robert was a valued colleague and we very much regret the devastating loss to his family and friends. South West Water takes its health and safety responsibilities very seriously and has co-operated fully with the investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.

South West Water has tried to ensure it learns all it can from this incident and will continue to strive to meet the highest standards of health and safety. As was said at the inquest, a review of our health and safety arrangements was already underway at the time of Robert’s death.

Since then we have updated procedures and policies, carried out comprehensive staff training and invested in new equipment and technologies, particularly to ensure the safety of staff who may be working alone. We believe our lone worker protection now sets the standard across the industry.”

 

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