Ruptured gas main leaves firm with £1.2m fine

Correct procedures should always be in place when working with hazardous gas, and it is up to the employer to ensure these measures have been taken. Gas company, Southern Gas Network, and construction firm, Cliffe Contractors Ltd, were left to pay a hefty fine after failure to carry out safety procedures resulted in a gas explosion which left two workers with severe injuries.

Two employees from Southern Gas Network were called out by Cliffe Contractors after its employees had damaged a mains pipe during construction work which caused gas to escape. During the repair, the gas ignited causing an explosion which led to one worker suffering from severe burns whilst the other sustained cuts and bruises.

The Health and Safety Executive carried out an investigation which found that Cliffe Contractors had not followed safe digging techniques when excavating the area around the pipeline, resulting in the gas main being damaged by a mechanical excavator. The investigation also found that a significant amount of gas was released by the rupture.

Southern Gas Network also failed to follow its own procedures or recognise safe systems of work when staff were repairing the main. Around 600 homes in the area were left without gas overnight following the incident and witnesses said the explosion caused houses to shake.

The case went to Folkstone Magistrates’ Court and Southern Gas Network pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which states ‘it is the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees’. The company was fined £1.2m and ordered to pay costs of £18,975.

Cliffe Contractors also pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,689.

The Health and Safety Executive warned that companies should be aware that it “will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.” This incident could have easily killed a worker and the injuries could have been avoided if safe excavation by Cliffe Contractors had been undertaken and Southern Gas Network had carried out safe mains repairs policies.