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October 31, 2008

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Two companies fined after pipe stopper explosion

A joiner broke his leg and damaged his hearing when an over-inflated pipe stopper exploded due to the use of an incompatible inflation controller.

The joiner was sub-contracted to Galliford Try Construction Ltd and was working on the construction of a water-treatment works in Holyhead, Wales when the incident occurred on 16 June 2005.

At Holyhead Magistrates’ Court, on 23 October, Galliford Try Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of section 3 (1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8788.

The court heard that the workman was asked by a colleague to place an inflatable pipe stopper into a culvert full of concrete so that it could be lined before being poured into a manhole. The pipe stopper had a maximum inflation pressure of 1.5 bar but the inflation controller was not compatible and had a higher pressure safety cut-off. This resulted in the pipe stopper bursting, leaving the workman with a compound fracture of the tibula and fibula, while suffering damage to his hearing from the noise of the explosion.

Magistrates also fined Selwood Ltd, which supplied the pipe stopper and inflation equipment. The firm pleaded guilty to a breach of section 23 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £3,000 and costs of £8798.

HSE inspector, Debbie John, who investigated the case (but didn’t prosecute it in court), told SHP: “The safe way of doing this would have been to use equipment that was compatible.

“The pipe stopper is used with an inflation controller and the two must be compatible. In this case, the inflation capacity of the stopper was 1.5 bar while the capacity of the controller was 3.5 bar. So, this meant that the relief valve, which was the safety device for the stopper kit, was set too high.

“There were no identification marks to indicate the safety limit of the controller. When equipment is incompatible, but can still be connected to another device, there should be some sort of warning on it. In this case there were no markings to indicate the potential for mixing up kit.”

In mitigation, both companies said it was the first time they had been prosecuted for this type of incident, and both promptly put measures in place afterwards to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

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