Prosecutions

Thames Water fined after sewage engulfs workers in tunnel

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Thames Water has been fined £300,000 after three workers were carried along a sewer in a gate collapse at the Thames Tideway Tunnel project.


On 29 August 2017, three workers were conducting preparatory work in a sewer for the Thames Tideway Tunnel at East Greenwich, which is controlled by Thames Water Utilities Limited (Thames Water).

The workers were engulfed when a 150-year-old cast iron gate failed, carrying them along the sewer. The three workers suffered minor physical injuries but have been mentally affected. One worker suffers from long-term traumatic stress and has been forced to continue working in his specialised career.

HSE found that Thames Water failed to properly coordinate work activities. The permission and authorisation system had been “fragmented”, it said.

Due to an unrelated planned power outage, the sewage pumps, vital to the control of sewage levels for the work, were also not available for use.

Thames Water Utilities Limited of Clearwater Court, Reading, Berkshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and was fined £300,000 with costs of £16,419.

Speaking after the hearing, investigating HSE inspector James Goldfinch said: “This serious incident endangered the lives of three workers and caused lasting adverse mental health effects; the workers narrowly avoided death by drowning in sewage.
“It should serve as a warning and a reminder to all those that work in confined spaces that work in these challenging environments must be properly planned, coordinated and managed.”

In 2017, Thames Water was fined £20 million after pumping 1.9 billion litres of untreated sewage into the River Thames. In December 2018, the company was fined £2 million for a “reckless failure” which led to the polluting of a tributary of the same river.

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