NHS trust fined after employee loses consciousness in manhole and suffers brain injury

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Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has been fined £480,000 after an employee lost consciousness and suffered a brain injury while unblocking a drain.

The man was discovered in a manhole on the hospital site by other staff members on 1 February 2022.

He was rescued by Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and treated in hospital for acute sulphate intoxication. This resulted in a traumatic brain injury and ongoing issues with memory loss and nerve damage.

The worker was found unconscious in a manhole. Photograph: HSE

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust had failed to identify the manhole as a confined space, and had not carried out a proper risk assessment of the activity. The Trust failed to prevent employees from entering confined spaces at the site, says HSE, and did not identify a safe system for clearing blocked drains.

HSE’s investigation also highlighted that no confined space training was given to members of the estates team, and insufficient information was provided on methods to adopt, risks involved and precautions to be taken when entering manholes.

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, of Rothwell Road, Kettering, Northants, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. The trust was fined £480,000 and ordered to pay £4,286.15 in costs at Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court on 9 January 2024.

The prosecution was brought by HSE enforcement lawyer Samantha Wells.

HSE inspector Heather Campbell said: “This case highlights the dangers of working in confined spaces. The manhole should have been identified as a confined space, and risk assessed accordingly. Safe systems of work for entry into confined spaces should have been in place, such as those outlined in the HSE’s Approved Code of Practice.”

HSE guidance states that if an employee enters a confined space and there is not enough oxygen to breathe properly, they must be provided with breathing apparatus or the space must be sufficiently ventilated before they enter.


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