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June 5, 2023

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UK workers have been digging too close to the pipeline network, a report has said

UK workers have been digging too close to the pipeline network and putting themselves at risk, according to a report.

The 2022 Linewatch Infringement Report has revealed 316 incidents of workers putting themselves at risk by digging too close to high-pressure oil, gas, and chemical pipes without the owner’s permission in 2022.

The pipeline safety and awareness group’s report showed fencing was the most common danger activity, making up 25% of incidents, followed by excavation for service at 14%, which includes any work to install new services including telecoms, gas, and water supply. 

Fencing contractor, Elliott, went viral in June 2022 when a video showed his post-knocker hitting an underground gas pipeline on a farm in Derbyshire. He was lucky and escaped without injury.

He said: “It is a tough incident to talk about. For a few seconds, I simply thought that my time was up, and I was more than incredibly lucky to walk away with not so much as a scratch on me.
“After I recovered from the initial shock, my only thought was, ‘I don’t want anyone else going through this’.

“I want to make sure that anyone out there thinking of putting a hole in the ground, no matter if it is knocking in a fencing post, planting a tree, or taking on a major construction project, then they should always search before they start work.”

The report showed landowners were the people most likely to cause damage to pipelines in the UK, making up 40% of all infringements in 2022.

Contractors made up 35% of incidents – a 12% percent increase on the previous year.

The Linewatch Report also showed 45% of infringements occurred even though the person responsible for the incident was already aware of the pipeline’s existence – a 15% on 2021.

High-pressure pipelines can be ‘as little as three feet’ below surface

Murray Peat, Manager at Linewatch, says this statistic is concerning as it highlights a distinct casualness, in some quarters, about the dangers of working near pipelines.

He said: “There is an assumption that high-pressure pipelines carrying flammable oil, gas, and chemicals are buried too deep underground to hit.
“This is far from the truth. In fact, they can be buried only as little as three feet below the surface.
“Given that hitting one of these pipes can cause serious injuries, and fatalities, as well as irreversible environmental damage with commensurate fines, it is clear why searching before digging is so important.

“As the Government commits to kickstarting the UK economy to regain control over spiralling inflation, there is no sign of digging activities slowing down.
“Therefore, it is more important than ever that the correct procedures are followed to protect our underground networks and keep our workers safe in the process.”

Nine of the incidents recorded last year had the potential to cause serious damage, a decrease on the previous year, and 44% of them were low risk, where there was no potential for damage

Last year Linewatch also delivered 113 free Safety Awareness Briefings to organisations across the UK to over 1,700 people. 

The group also produces educational videos to highlight best practice when planning and undertaking works around pipelines alongside an eLearning module called ‘An introduction to Safe Digging’.

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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