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 within the screen well area of the Prestonpans Pumping Station on June 9 2017 when he fell through the floor into a storm channel.
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 1 2007 and June 9 2017, a period spanning more than 10 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 10 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 10 years.
In his statement, later published on the Judiciary of Scotland website, Mr Fife said: “Employees were working in an environment with sewage and at height.
“The potential for serious or very serious injury, including fatality, in the event of an accident was obvious.”
Mr Anderson suffered a broken back, broken left collarbone, broken left ribs, swelling and bruising over the whole body and a laceration of approximately three to four inches on the head, above the left ear.
He was in intensive care at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for about 10 days before being transferred to the Western General Infirmary where he remained for about three weeks.
Mr Anderson 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.
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.”