Truro Crown Court heard that on 30 December 2013 54-year-old Mr Robert Geach, a catchment operator employed by South West Water, was discovered face down in water by a colleague, having drowned and died at the scene. He had been working on the sand filtration unit of the Falmouth Waste Water Treatment Works.
Mr Geach was last seen working on the top of the unit several hours before being found by his colleague, who was responding to the lone worker alarm system. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to identify the risk of drowning associated with the maintenance activity, which Mr Geach and his colleagues performed regularly.
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.”
Water Treatment Plant at Falmouth docks
Mr Geach was working alone when he removed a grille on the tank, and had to lean inside to unblock a filter. He fell through the hole, and was found face down in 6.5ft (2m) of water. The court heard that Mr Geach had activated the company's lone worker alarm system, but a slow response meant he was not found for four and a half hours. This tragic fatality could have been avoided with effective risk assessments, procedures and drills to test the lone worker system.