Two Companies Plead Guilty for Sparking Gas Main Fire

The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd, known as United Utilities at the time, and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc of London in connection with the September 2010 fire.

Britain's Health and Safety Executive filed a successful case against two companies, Northern Gas Networks Operations Ltd, known as United Utilities at the time, and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc of London, for inadequately planning a welding job in September 2010. The welding involved a gas main and started a blaze that endangered residents of six nearby homes. Three workers managed to escape and London firefighters sprayed water on the houses to protect them, HSE reported July 31.

The two companies, which HSE contended ignored basic safety measures, pleaded guilty to a single offense each 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, while Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) was fined £50,000 with £12,900 in costs. In all, they were ordered to pay about $161,000.

HSE's news release indicated MSI plc was supervising but had subcontracted parts of the project to two firms. The job was 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, according to HSE.

"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," HSE Inspector Ian Redshaw said after the sentencing. "There were numerous failings by both companies in the planning, organization 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."

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