Fife Council fined £24,000 over gas leak

Fife Council has been fined £24,000 for “serious safety failings” after workers struck and ruptured an underground gas pipe releasing almost four tonnes of gas.

One hundred homes and businesses, including a nearby primary school, were evacuated following the incident at the council’s Milesmark Depot in Carnock Road, Dunfermline, on 11th June 2010.

Speaking after the hearing at Dunfermline Sheriff Court, HSE Inspector Mac Young described the incident as “entirely foreseeable and easily preventable”.

A subsequent HSE investigation found that whilst there were no casualties, members of the public were put at risk of injury or death.

Dunfermline Sheriff Court was told that on the day of the incident drainage works were being carried out at the depot by the council’s own employees.

The employees, who were not supervised, excavated a new trench using hand held power tools and mechanical excavators. They were unaware that a decision had been taken the previous day not to dig in that particular area.

During the excavation whinstone dust – an indicator of the presence of gas or water pipes – was exposed and disturbed. Even so, the workers continued the excavation until the mechanical digger struck and ruptured a gas valve on a six-inch pressure main.

The area was immediately evacuated and the incident reported. With the emergency services and Scottish Gas Networks at the scene, properties in the area were evacuated for five hours while the damage was repaired.

Serious safety failings

The HSE’s investigation exposed various failings by the council. These included:

  • Failure to assess the risks to members of the public near the depot
  • Failure to provide and maintain a safe system of work for the excavation, which included failing to refer to utility plans showing the location of underground services and failing to use devices or hand tools to locate underground services
  • Failure to provide the necessary information, instruction and supervision to the excavation works to ensure the health and safety of nearby members of the public

Mr Young said: “Fife Council’s failures all related to inadequate risk assessment, lack of safe systems of work and a breakdown principally of the supervision of those employees involved.”

The risks attached to excavation works were well known and documented, he added. “Guidance states that hand held power tools and mechanical excavators are the main causes of danger and should not be used close to underground services.”

“Thankfully, no-one was injured, nor was there any damage to property. That, however, is down more to luck than judgement.”

Fife Council, of Fife House, North Street, Glenrothes, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They were handed a fine of £24,000.

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