The number of times construction workers and developers were found to be working too close to high-pressure oil, gas, and chemical pipes without the owner’s permission increased by 57 percent in 2022.
Of the 316 incidents in 2022 reported to Linewatch, the leading pipeline safety and awareness group, 127 (40 percent) were caused by contractors and developers.
Murray Peat, Manager at Linewatch, comments: “Construction workers have historically been some of the worst offenders when it comes to damaging, or operating too close to the UK’s underground network of high-pressure oil, gas, and chemical pipelines. Although reporting took a major step forward in 2022, a 57 percent increase in 2022 is significant. It highlights that there is still plenty of educational work to do, engaging with developers and contractors up and down the country.”
An infringement can range from someone working near an oil, gas or chemical pipeline without the proper permissions or the owner’s awareness, through to them actually striking or damaging a pipe.
Linewatch’s annual Infringement Report states that close to half (45 percent) of infringements occurred even though the person responsible for the incident was already aware of the pipeline’s existence. This is a 15 percent increase on 2021 and highlights a distinct casualness, in some quarters, about the dangers of working near pipelines.
Murray Peat is concerned by this: “There is an assumption that high-pressure pipelines carrying flammable oil, gas, and chemicals are buried too deep underground to hit. This is far from the truth. In fact, they can be buried as little as three feet below the surface. Given that hitting one of these pipes can cause serious injuries, and fatalities, as well as irreversible environmental damage with commensurate fines, it is clear why searching before digging is so important.”
In terms of severity, of all incidents recorded, eight were deemed as ‘high’ category. This refers to works that had the potential to cause serious damage or harm. This is a decrease on the previous year.
‘Low’ risk incidents increased by 44 percent in 2022, the most of any category. ‘Low’ risk refers to works within an easement or wayleave that had no potential for damage. Whilst this sounds like minimal risk, it is still a worrying sign because the infringements could have been much worse had they been in closer proximity to the pipeline.
When it comes to the timings of these infringements, the first and third quarters recorded peak activity, which correlates with increased seasonal work such as fencing and excavation.
Murray Peat concludes: “There are no signs of digging slowing down as the Government commits to kickstarting the UK economy to regain control over spiralling inflation. It is therefore more important than ever that the correct digging procedures are followed.”
As well as producing the Infringement Report, and promoting the awareness of safe digging, Linewatch advises those involved in digging works across the UK. During 2022, Linewatch delivered 113 free Safety Awareness Briefings to organisations around the UK to over 1,700 people. Among those who took part include Kier, Balfour Beatty Vinci, HS2 and Laing O’Rourke.
It produced several new educational videos to highlight best practice when planning and undertaking works around pipelines alongside an eLearning module created in collaboration with LSBUD, titled ‘An introduction to Safe Digging’.
To download the full 2022 Infringement Report, please visit the Linewatch website.