Scottish Water fined £140,000 after worker breaks back in fall

James Anderson was trying to regulate water flow at a pumping station when he fell through an insecure floor.

Scottish Water fined £140,000 after worker breaks back in fall Getty Images
Court: Scottish Water has been fined £140,000.

Scottish Water has been fined £140,000 after an employee broke his back when he fell through an insecure floor into sewage at a pumping station.

James Anderson was trying to regulate water flow at Prestonpans Pumping Station when he fell through the floor into a storm channel.

As well as breaking his back, he also broke his left collarbone and ribs. He also suffered swelling and bruising across his whole body, as well as a laceration to his head. 

Mr Anderson was kept in intensive care at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for around ten days before being transferred to the Western General Infirmary, where he remained for about three weeks.

He underwent multiple operations on his head, the wound twice becoming infected due to the bacterial build-up from the sewage he fell into, and to his back.

A number of metal rods and pins were inserted into his spine and he was off work for about nine months, with a phased return to work in February 2018.

Scottish Water earlier this month admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act and a contravention of Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to Mr Anderson’s severe injury, permanent disfigurement, permanent impairment and the danger of his life.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation found there was an unfixed floor that had become dislodged by floodwaters, leaving gaps and creating an unsafe working environment.

While the main focus was on the incident on June 9, 2017, the charge covered “various occasions” between January 2007 and June 2017, a period spanning more than ten years.

In his sentencing statement at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Tuesday, Sheriff Robert D M Fife said: “It would be reasonable to say this was an accident waiting to happen.”

An agreed narrative provided to the court said: “The custom and practice that had existed for many years was simply to work around the gaps in the floor until they could be recovered and refitted.

“There was no safe system of work and no risk assessment. It was readily foreseeable that someone would eventually fall.

“Scottish Water was aware that the floorboards in the pre-screen well area had lifted during flooding over the previous ten years.

“Replacement flooring had been fitted in the pre-screen well area in March 2017 but not in the post-screen well area where the incident occurred.”

The court was told despite the regular flooding and work undertaken to replace flooring, no risk assessment was undertaken and no explanation was offered over why none was carried out despite opportunities to do so over ten years.

Lawyers for Scottish Water said failings did not occur as a result of a deliberate breach but because of an honest oversight in relation to one activity at one pumping station.

Peter Farrer, Scottish Water’s chief operating officer, said: “This was a terrible accident which left one of our employees with serious injuries and it’s important that we do everything possible to prevent something like this happening again.

“We are committed to constantly working to ensure that we have the best possible health and safety systems in place to make sure that everyone goes home safe and well at the end of the working day.”