Protect your lone workers

Working alone is a known health and safety red flag area, as one company found to its cost recently.

An Exeter-based water treatment firm was fined £1.8 million after a lone worker drowned at one of its plants just after Christmas.

The tragedy could have been prevented and it’s likely the sizeable fine reflected the series of failings.

Despite having a system in place to send an alarm message after a period of inactivity, no one was dispatched to investigate for over four hours.

The catchment operator had been carrying out a routine maintenance task when he slipped and fell into a 6.5ft-deep water tank on December 30 2013. The company had failed to identify the risk of drowning.

Truro Crown Court held that a proper assessment covering lone-working procedures had not been carried out; proper planning and the adoption of simple preventative measures could have saved this worker. It was also found that the firm had failed to heed previous warnings: in 2009, the HSE had raised concerns about railing heights, trip hazards, and working alone.

The company admitted failing to identify the risks posed to lone workers and pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The individual had been working alone at a Cornwall water treatment facility trying to unblock a sand filtration filter when he fell through a narrow opening into the unit itself. There was no means of escape. The company had a lone-worker call-in system in place, with an automatic alarm after a period of inactivity. If the worker didn’t respond, the Exeter control centre would be alerted.

Tragically, although the alert was registered as early as 16:53, a colleague was not dispatched to investigate until shortly before the discovery of the deceased at 19:50.

Despite activating the emergency system, the individual had ultimately remained in the tank without assistance for four and a half hours.

The company is reported to have an annual turnover in excess of £500 million. It has no previous health and safety convictions and has since made changes to its lone working procedures.


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