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Utilities workers at significant risk from pipeline danger says Linewatch

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Pipelines,

The utilities industry and their contractors were the second biggest risk to UK pipelines last year. In 2023, almost two in five (19%) workers digging too close to underground high-pressure oil, gas, and chemical pipes were carrying out utility works, according to Linewatch, a leading pipeline safety awareness group.

Utilities workers at significant risk from pipeline danger says Linewatch

Data from the 2023 Infringement Report shows that of the 268 incidents recorded, utility companies were responsible for 15%, whilst contractors were also a concern, causing 30% of all infringements.

In comparison, local authorities were responsible for just 4% of incidents with the UK’s highways agencies making up a mere 0.5%.

An infringement ranges from someone simply working near an oil, gas, or chemical pipeline without the operator's permission, through to a worker hitting and damaging it with no prior awareness. Not only does this put workers at risk of serious, life-altering injury, but it can cause irrevocable damage to the environment and carry a financial burden of up to £15 million.

In 2023, excavation for service was the biggest cause of pipeline infringements across the UK, accounting for 25% of all reports. But excavation isn’t the only danger activity taking place by utilities companies and their contractors, with roadworks (5%) and parked machinery (2%) also posing a serious threat.

Another contributor to utility-related infringements is emergency repair works. Linewatch has identified a trend of utilities companies and contractors not taking the time to complete a thorough underground search before carrying out emergency repairs to their networks. This decision is taken in favour of completing the work safely. But by not carrying out a pipeline search using LSBUD, they risk the integrity of surrounding pipelines and their workers’ safety.

When it comes to the timings of infringements, there is a clear pattern, with incidents much higher in Q1 and Q3. This directly correlates with seasonal work and increased work to use up budgets before the start of the new financial year.

The most worrying thing revealed by the Infringement Report is that more than half (52%) of infringements occurred even though the person responsible for digging was aware of the pipeline’s existence. This is a 7% increase on 2023, which also saw a 15% increase on the previous year. This highlights a distinct casualness about the dangers of working near pipelines.

Murray Peat, Manager at Linewatch, comments: “Whilst utilities works are integral to the UK’s infrastructure, it’s concerning that it persists as one of the biggest risks to pipeline integrity. Especially considering the threat to life is so significant.

“We know how critical our utility networks are to the UK, so we want to protect them as much as possible. If every utility worker and contractor can remember to always search for pipelines using LSBUD before carrying out any work and to be vigilant for pipeline markers, then we would make significant headway in keeping them safe. Always search before you dig!”

As well as tracking infringements and producing the Infringement Report, Linewatch advises thousands on safe digging practises each year across the UK. In 2023, Linewatch delivered 110 free Safety Awareness Briefings to organisations across the UK to over 1700 people.

Visit the Linewatch website to download the full 2023 Infringement Report.



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UK pipeline news