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September 22, 2011

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Risk of drowning in power-station sump was “obvious”

The death of a maintenance worker, who drowned after falling into a water-filled sump at a North Wales power station, could have been prevented if barriers had been erected in the enclosure.

Mold Crown Court heard that Michael Benn, 35, was working as part of a three-man team to remove sludge and debris from a cooling tower at E.On’s Connah’s Quay Power Station on 27 August 2007. The men were employed by specialist cleaning contractor, Epsco Ltd.

Conditions in the cooling tower were noisy and poorly lit. Mr Benn entered a concrete culvert, which measured about two metres high by two metres wide. He walked to the end of the tunnel to determine the water level in a deep-well sump, which was located at the end of the culvert and was approximately four metres deep. At the time, the water level in the sump reached 1.8m.

There were no safety barriers in place around the sump and Mr Benn fell in. He called out to his colleagues, but by the time they got to the sump he had disappeared from view. They alerted the client, who contacted a specialist on-site team of divers to retrieve Mr Benn. However, efforts to resuscitate him failed and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

HSE Principal Inspector Colin Mew said: “This incident was entirely foreseeable and yet it was still allowed to happen. Epsco Ltd would have known Mr Benn, or one of his colleagues, would need to approach the sump in the course of their work. The inherent risk of working in this manner should have been obvious to any diligent employer.”

Inspector Mew explained that Epsco had carried out a risk assessment, which recognised that there were risks involved in working in the culvert, but it didn’t identify an adequate safe system of work, with regard to the “significant hazard of falling into the sump”.

Added the inspector: “This company failed to put a safe system of work into place. The enclosed area where this work was taking place was poorly lit, noisy, and conditions were wet and slippery. The cost of providing barriers, or other measures to prevent this incident, and the time and effort involved, would have been minimal.”

Epsco, which is based in Perth, Scotland, originally entered a not-guilty plea but later admitted a charge under s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. Sentenced on 21 September, it was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay costs of £120,000.

In mitigation, the company said it worked in a highly-regulated sector of the industry and previously had an unblemished safety record. The court also accepted that the death did not result from the breach.

Inspector Mew concluded: “The real tragedy here is the human cost that has resulted from the death of Michael Benn and the ease with which his death could have been prevented – I hope that other employers take heed of this message.”

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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12 years ago

“The court also accepted that the death did not result from the breach.” ??? Seems somewhat peculiar under the circumstances?