Openreach fined a record £90,000 for unsafe streetworks

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach, Health & Safety

Lessons must be learned by Openreach that it cannot “abrogate responsibility” for health and safety breaches associated with work carried out on its behalf by third-party contractors, the CWU’s national health and safety officer has warned.

Commenting on the imposition of a record £90,000 fine for the company’s failure to properly signpost and segregate a potentially hazardous work site in a busy central London location, Dave Joyce stressed that an important message had been delivered that the responsibility of companies to ensure public safety is undiminished, even when that work is being conducted by external contractors.

The second prosecution of its type pursued by Transport for London (TfL) against Openreach in just 12 months stemmed from its appointed contractors’ failure to properly sign and guard a work area at Bishopsgate in EC2, and for its failure to use the correct traffic management methods in an exceptionally busy location.

Despite repeated demands by TfL, Openreach failed to take actions to improve the situation, leading to unsafe conditions for not just road users, including cyclists, but also pedestrians who were able to walk dangerously close to heavy plant and machinery.

Last week (March 28) the company pleaded guilty to the unsafe execution of streetworks with significant risk to public safety at Westminster Magistrates Court and was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay a further £3,394 in court costs.

In passing sentence, the Judge said: “There is clearly a disconnect between BT and its contractors, consistently resulting in a number of these breaches, which must be fixed by BT to avoid future offences. It took over a day for BT to rectify these faults despite the works taking place in a busy part of the City of London with substantial impact on traffic. The response was unacceptably slow and that is reflected in the sentence.”

Following the sentence TfL’s director of network management, Glynn Barton, told the media: “The safety of the public and workers should be top priority when undertaking roadworks. TfL has now prosecuted BT for streetworks offences 47 times since 2010 and they still continue to breach the safety rules.

“It is absolutely vital that companies such as BT ensure safety on site and TfL will always push for the strongest possible action against those that put the public at risk.”

Since 2010, TfL has prosecuted Openreach 47 times for streetworks offences, including those for dangerous and disruptive work.

In a statement following the latest fine Openreach said: “We fully accept the judge’s decision and we’re sorry that our safeguards were not up to scratch in this case. We carry out 3,500 projects like this every month across London and over 99 per cent of these are completed without incident. Safety is paramount to us, and we’re putting further measures in place for our contractors to follow to prevent this happening in future.

CWU national H&S & environment officer Dave Joyce concludes: “Those undertaking roadworks can’t leave things to chance and must take into account local conditions and legislation in respect of works taking place on or adjacent to the public highway – and the responsibilities cover organising the work safely, safety signing, lighting and guarding of street works and road works on all highways and roads inthe capital and elsewhere.

“Those managing these works are responsible for making sure that all street and road works are safe for both the workers and the public. Particular attention must be given to the needs of disabled people and other vulnerable groups such as elderly people, children and those with push chairs for example.

“Ensuring safe working conditions should involve pre-planning, permission of the authorities, appropriate signage, traffic flow measures, suitable cones, barriers, lighting and such like.

“Sadly it appears that Openreach has become a ‘serial offender’ in London and clearly needs to up its game.”