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National Grid fined £2million over failings related to death of schoolboy

Date:
8 December 2015

One of the UK’s biggest gas distributers was sentenced today after admitting safety failings in relation to the death of a young boy.

On 24 April 2014, 11-year-old Robbie Williamson and two friends were crossing the Leeds and Liverpool Canal using a pipeline running on the outside of Dugdale Bridge at Lowerhouse Lane, Burnley.

As they were crossing, Robbie fell from the pipe and into the canal below. He was taken to Royal Blackburn Hospital but died later that day.  The cause of death was recorded as being caused by drowning and a head injury.

Preston Crown Court was told by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuting that National Grid Gas plc failed to properly protect the exposed pipeline from the risk of injury from falls from the pipeline.

The boys were able to climb on to the pipe from a ramp (footpath) running from the road to the canal tow path.

National Grid Gas plc operates the gas distribution network delivering gas to approximately half of the homes and businesses in the UK through its network of pipes. 

The court heard National Grid Gas plc have a procedure for inspecting this type of above ground pipe crossing, and requirements for providing measures to prevent access on to these structures.

However their records incorrectly showed the pipe was buried within the bridge rather than exposed on the outside of the bridge, therefore this crossing had not been subject to any inspections and had no access prevention measures fitted.

Maintenance work had been carried out on the pipe in the past but the records had not been updated.

It is typical for pipe crossings to have steel ‘fans’ or similar measures fitted to prevent access. The court was told such measures have been fitted to the pipe crossing following the incident after a HSE improvement notice was issued.

National Grid Gas plc, of The Strand, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £2,000,000 with £36,102.90 costs.

HSE Inspector Ian Redshaw, said after the hearing: “This was a tragic accident which has had a devastating impact on Robbie’s family and friends. 

“The company failed to assess the risks associated with this pipe to members of the public, and as a result they had not put in place any measures to prevent or deter access onto the pipe. This was a significant cause in Robbie’s death.”

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 www.hse.gov.uk
  2. More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: www.legislation.gov.uk/
  3. Further HSE news releases are available at www.press.hse.gov.uk

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