Fife Council has been fined £24,000 for serious safety failings after workers ruptured an underground gas pipe, releasing almost four tons of gas.
A primary school, 100 homes and businesses were evacuated following the incident at the council’s Milesmark depot in Dunfermline on June 11 2010.
Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard that although there were no casualties, members of the public were put at risk of injury or death.
The court was told that drainage works were being carried out at the depot by the council’s own employees.
However, on that day unsupervised employees decided to excavate a new trench unaware a decision had been taken the day before not to dig in that area.
During the excavation, using a hand-held power tool and mechanical digger, they exposed and disturbed whinstone dust, which is an indicator of the presence of gas or water pipes.
In spite of this, they continued the excavation and the digger struck and ruptured a gas valve on a six-inch pressure main. They immediately evacuated the area and reported the incident.
Emergency services and gas engineers were called to the scene and all properties in the area evacuated for five hours while the damage was repaired.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive revealed various failings by the council including:
* Failure to assess the risks to members of the public near the depot
* Failure to provide and maintain a safe system of work for the excavation, which included failing to refer to utility plans showing the location of underground services and failing to use devices or hand tools to locate underground services
* Failure to provide the necessary information, instruction and supervision to the excavation works to ensure the health and safety of nearby members of the public.
Fife Council was fined £24,000 after pleading guilty to breaching sections two and three of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
HSE inspector Mac Young said the incident was both entirely foreseeable and easily preventable, adding: “The risks attached to excavation works are well known and documented.
“Thankfully, no one was injured, nor was there any damage to property. That, however, is down more to luck than judgement.”
Fife Council’s environment, enterprise and communities director Keith Winter said: “On this occasion, protocol was not followed and the results put the health of employees and the general public at risk.
“On behalf of Fife Council, I’d like to apologise for this. Fortunately no one was injured as a result of this incident.”
He said the council understood the full potential of the risk which caused the temporary closure of the A917 Dunfermline to Stirling Road and had learned significantly from the experience.