A major fire was caused from welding on gas mains at a plant in Leeds resulting in evacuation of houses, main road closures and the shutting off of a gas main. The fire closed the ring road for two days; however no one was injured.
The fire started when Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd (NGNO) were employed to divert gas mains to allow for changes to the ring road to be undertaken. NGNO sub-contracted the work out to two other businesses that turned out to only be competent in specific parts of the work. Neither sub-contractor fully understood the overall work being carried out and were not prosecuted.
As part of the project welding work was undertaken on the pipework in an excavation; the gas had not been properly isolated and escaping gas was ignited sending up 20 foot high flames.
NGNO and Morgan Sindall were responsible for managing the project and both were found to have badly failed in their control. They had failed to plan the work effectively and implement the necessary safety controls for the work to be undertaken.
NGNO were fined £35,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,453 and Morgan Sindall were fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,900.
It seems strange that given this was not a unique task that both companies got it so badly wrong and they were lucky that no one was hurt. It does however show the importance of making sure tasks are properly risk assessed and that systems such as permits to work must be used for hot working.
It also highlights the importance of having robust systems in place when work is sub-contracted out; it’s imperative that sub-contractor risk assessments, method statements and competence is checked fully before any work is agreed. On top of this high risk tasks such as this should always be suitably supervised which does not appear to have occurred in this case. As NGNO and Morgan Sindall getting it wrong really is not an option.