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Companies sentenced for major blaze failures

31 July 2013

Two major companies were responsible for a major blaze in Leeds that led to the evacuation of six homes, the closure of a major road and gas supplies being cut off, a court heard today (31 July).

Leeds-based Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc both neglected basic safety measures when a new section of gas mains needed to be installed during a major construction project on the Ring Road at Beeston.

Leeds Crown Court heard that numerous safety failings by both companies resulted in welding work on a gas main sparking a fire that sent 20-foot flames into the sky. Three workers had to flee to escape. Six homes had to be evacuated and fire crews used water jets to protect nearby properties.

The Brigade was on the scene for more than ten hours until the fire was under control and the ring road was closed for two days.

The incident, on 3 September 2010, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd (NGNO Ltd), known as United Utilities at the time, and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc (MSI plc), of London, for safety breaches.

The court was told NGNO Ltd, which maintains the gas distribution system across the north of England, hired MSI plc to divert the gas mains on the Ring Road at Beeston. The work was being carried out to allow changes to the road layout. MSI plc was supervising but had sub-contracted parts of the project to two further firms.

The work meant installing a new section of gas mains to the existing system, which required welding work to be carried out on the mains in an excavation. The gas mains had not been adequately isolated and sparks from the hot welding work ignited the escaping gas.

HSE found the two sub-contractors were only competent in specific parts of the job and neither fully understood the overall work being carried out. Both NGNO Ltd and MSI plc failed to effectively plan the necessary work or provide the safety controls under which the work could be done.

Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd, of Thorpe Park Business Park, Colton, Leeds, and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc of Market Place, Westminster, London, both pleaded guilty to a single offence under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Northern Gas Networks Operations was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £8,453 in costs. Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) was fined £50,000 with £12,900 in costs.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector Ian Redshaw said:

"Someone could have been killed or badly injured in this incident. Thankfully no one was hurt, but this was a severe fire that was a danger to workers and local people.

"There were numerous failings by both companies in the planning, organisation and execution of the work – most importantly the failure to consider and control the risks associated with welding near live gas mains.

"When undertaking high hazard activities such as this, it is essential that the proper steps are taken to ensure that risks are fully considered and then controlled.

"This type of activity is regularly undertaken in the gas industry and all the safety practices are well established and common knowledge in the industry. Thankfully incidents are rare, but if they do occur the consequences can be devastating."

For more information on gas safety, visit The emergency number if anyone smells gas is 0800 111 999.

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

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