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Help us protect our pipes – and keep yourself safe

Posted on: 29/07/2015

When we meet landowners and developers, we’re always talking about ‘dial before you dig’ – asking people to contact us to find out where our gas equipment is positioned, before digging in the ground. Sometimes people think this is just too much - especially if they are only going to tackle a small job. But, seriously, before you start digging on the public highway or private land – it really is essential that you contact us to check the location of our pipes and other equipment.

Damaging our pipes can hit projects and businesses hard – disruption to gas supplies and other utilities can be an expensive problem to solve. It can also damage property and delay your works – for much longer than a call to us to check the position of pipes before you start work would do. Also, you may fall foul of the law and face investigation by the Police, the Health & Safety Executive, or by us - followed by potential legal action, prosecution, liabilities and serious reputational damage.

Last weekend was a good example of what can happen when someone damages gas pipes.

On what was otherwise a quiet Friday afternoon, I got a call to say that we may have a bit of a problem in north Wales. Our teams immediately swung into action and it wasn’t long before we had the latest news: contractors working on a school site had put a digger shovel through a low pressure gas pipe. For an hour or so we worked to see if we could keep the gas supply to homes in the area but unfortunately, because of the location of the damage we couldn’t do that. More than 300 homes were left without gas, and the residents of the village looked like they were going to face a weekend – fortunately quite a mild if wet one, without gas for cooking and heating.

 

Our teams – both in the office and on the ground – worked hard and were, as usual, a credit to us. We distributed hot plates and fan heaters to customers who were registered on their respective energy suppliers’ Priority Service Registers, while our engineers went door to door disconnecting peoples’ gas supplies. Once all homes we could access were disconnected, and we’d completed the repair on the damaged main, we went door to door again, turning gas supplies safely back on.

The local community was very supportive, and by midnight on Friday we had everyone’s gas supplies back on. That left only those homes that we could not get into, because no one was at home, turned off at their gas meters. We put cards through their letter boxes letting them know what had happened and how they could get in touch with us to get their gas supply turned back on. We were lucky here that it was ‘only’ 300 properties off gas. Had this been in a densely populated area there could have been thousands – or even tens of thousands of properties off gas for several days – or longer. 

It really was a great effort by all involved, and an example of how we really do live by our business priorities - our engineers pulled out all the stops to put the needs of our customers first, and doing all we could to provide a reliable gas supply. We are now investigating how this incident happened, and what follow up action we need to take.

But it really didn’t have to be this way. So, if you are planning to work on a public highway or on private land, please let our plant protection team know before you start digging, and between us we can keep the gas on and you safe. 

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Chris Clarke

Wales & West Utilities Director of Asset Management and HS&E