UK Utility company National Grid has been fined $3m (£2m) after safety failings caused a young boy’s canal death. National Grid owns a huge swathe of Utilities in the North Eastern United States as well as running UK electricity and water infrastructure.
Robbie Williamson, 11, from Burnley in Northern England, died while playing with friends April 2014. The schoolboy fell from an exposed pipeline he was using to cross the Leeds and Liverpool canal, into the water below. National Grid said, adding: “We put guards in place on the gas pipe shortly after the accident and also on other similar crossings throughout our network too.
“We contacted other utility companies to make sure they were aware of what had happened so that they could take action as well.”
Little Robbie was pulled out of the water by neighbour Peter Graham – a former Royal Artillery soldier – and rushed to Royal Blackburn hospital. He died later that day.
National Grid Gas PLC was ordered to pay a seven-figure sum after admitting at Preston crown court it had failed to properly protect the exposed pipeline from the risk of injury from falls.
Judge Mark Brown, sentencing, said the exposed pipe, 3m (9ft 8in) above the water over a concrete surface, was “an accident waiting to happen.”
Brown said: “The pipeline was likely to have been attraction to young boys such as Robbie and was likely to be dangerous when it was wet and slippery.” National Grid did nothing to prevent or deter access onto it, the judge said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the terrible and tragic death of Robbie has had a deeply profound affect on his parents. There can not be anything worse in life than for a parent to lose their child at such a very young age,” Brown said.
National Grid pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Three boys were able to climb onto the 12in-diameter pipe from a ramped footpath because there had been no access prevention measures fitted. The company was ordered to pay £36,102.90 in costs.
The court had heard at first that National Grid Gas had a procedure for inspecting ground pipe crossings and requirements to block access to the structures. Yet records claimed that the pipe was buried in the bridge structure instead of being exposed – causing inspectors to miss the site and no access prevention measures to be fitted, such as steel “fans”.
Only maintenance work had been carried out on the pipe, in place alongside the bridge since 1903, but records had not been updated. Measures have since been put in place on the site to block access to the pipes.
National Grid said in a statement: “We’re deeply sorry for what happened to Robbie Williamson.”
The schoolboy’s father, Dean Williamson, 38, told The Lancashire Telegraph the loss of his son had had a devastating affect on the family. In a victim impact statement read to court, he said: “Christmas is a difficult time.
“People in the community talk about Robbie. I didn’t realise how many people knew him and loved him. I can’t face talking about what has happened – this tragic accident has changed our lives for ever.”
Ian Redshaw, an inspector at Health and Safety Executive, the regulators, said after the hearing: “This was a tragic accident which has had a devastating impact on Robbie’s family and friends.
“The company failed to assess the risks associated with this pipe to members of the public, and as a result they had not put in place any measures to prevent or deter access onto the pipe. This was a significant cause in Robbie’s death,” he added.
The health and safety inspector said there are hundreds of pipe crossings. In 2001 there was a case involving Yorkshire Water, in which a boy crossing a pipe broke a limb.
A company spokesman for National Grid said the expectation was that such pipes were guarded to prevent such accidents happening in residential locations where there are many people in the area.
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