Laing O'Rourke fined after gas leak at Staffordshire hospital

'Breakdown in health and safety procedures' led to potentially-dangerous leak at Royal Stoke University Hospital

Laing O’Rourke Construction has been fined after a major gas leak at a Staffordshire hospital.

The incident at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, now known as Royal Stoke University Hospital, happened on 8 January last year while work was being carried out on a new car park and drainage installation.

The hospital declared a major incident and set up an exclusion zone around the pipe after an excavator struck a buried plastic gas pipe, causing significant damage to the pipe and a large release of gas.

The measures included closing the main internal road through the hospital’s grounds, causing traffic chaos on surrounding access routes.

On this occasion there was a general breakdown in the company’s comprehensive health and safety procedures for preventing such an incident

Stafford Magistrates’ Court was told that the pipe fed an energy centre that provided 90% of the hospital’s heating. Fortunately, the energy centre was dual fuel and engineers were able to quickly switch the heating supply to oil. <.p>

It took 90 minutes to stop the leak, during which time a significant quantity of gas was released into the atmosphere.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Laing O’Rourke had failed to implement a safe system of work and follow relevant guidance for safe digging when dealing with buried underground services.

HSE guidance states that the position of plastic (PE) gas pipes should be located by hand digging before mechanical excavation begins. It also states that mechanical excavators should not be used within 500mm of a buried gas pipe.

Laing O’Rourke Construction, of Anchor Boulevard, Admirals Park, Crossways, Dartford, Kent, was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,723 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 34(3) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew Bowker said: “As a large, experienced construction company, Laing O’Rourke was well aware of the relevant guidance on dealing with underground services. On this occasion there was a general breakdown in the company’s comprehensive health and safety procedures for preventing such an incident.

The result was a highly-dangerous situation that had the potential to expose construction workers, hospital staff, patients and visitors to an initial flash fire and subsequent fire and explosion risk

“It failed to suitably plan and monitor the work; failed to hand dig trial holes to locate a known gas pipe; failed to have a suitable exclusion zone between the excavator and the pipe; and failed to use safe digging methods to expose the pipe.

“The result was a highly-dangerous situation that had the potential to expose construction workers, hospital staff, patients and visitors to an initial flash fire and subsequent fire and explosion risk.”

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