Barge operator fined for health and safety breach

A barge operator has been ordered to pay around £111,000 in fines and costs after admitting to a breach of maritime health and safety legislation.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard how the crew on the Serco barge became alarmed upon smelling what they believed to be hydrogen sulphide on 6th July, 2011.

An investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency revealed that a crewman put a gas detector into practice which produced a reading of 57 parts per million (ppm).

The reading came in well above the prescribed danger limits of five ppm and the crew subsequently contacted the operations manager.

Despite the concerns, the barge was not stopped as it was concluded that the monitor was malfunctioning.

Serco pleaded guilty to a healthy and safety offence at Portsmouth Crown Court.

Ministry of Defence contract

The core function of Serco was to collect waste products from naval vessels docked in Portsmouth. It was operating as part of a Ministry of Defence contract.

As the operations continued, crew started to feel unwell and a decision was made to evacuate the barge.

Two crew members were taken to hospital for treatment and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency found a number of health and safety failings by the operator.

These included:

  • Unsafe practices by leaving tank lids open
  • Safety equipment including the gas monitor not being properly maintained or calibrated
  • The crew was not properly trained in how to use the safety equipment

Serco was fined £50,000, with £60,716 in costs at Portsmouth Crown Court.

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