Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Portsmouth barge operator fined for health and safety breach

A barge operator has been made to pay almost £111,000 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to a breach of maritime legislation.

The court heard crew on the Portsmouth-based Serco barge smelled the odour of hydrogen sulphide, on 6 July 2011.

A crewman collected a gas detector which produced a reading of 57 parts per million (ppm) – well above the prescribed danger limits of five ppm.

Serco admitted a healthy and safety offence at Portsmouth Crown Court.

The primary function of the barge, operated as part of a Ministry of Defence contract, was to collect waste products from naval vessels moored in Portsmouth.

The court heard crew contacted the operations manager after using the gas detector, but the barge was not stopped as it was decided the monitor was malfunctioning.

Crew had started to feel unwell and a decision was made to stop the operation and evacuate the barge. Two crew were taken to hospital for treatment.

An investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) showed a number of health and safety failings by the operator.

These included unsafe practice by leaving the tank lids open; and safety equipment, such as the gas monitor, not being properly maintained or calibrated. The crew was also not properly trained in how to use the safety equipment, the investigation concluded.

Serco was fined £50,000, with £60,716 in costs.

Paul Robinson, director of marine services at the firm, said: "Serco fully accepts the decision of the court. We have worked closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency throughout and cooperated fully with them.

"The health and safety of our employees and customers is our top priority and a responsibility we take very seriously.

"Our aim is to ensure that this type of incident cannot happen again and therefore we have made a number of operational improvements and updated our training to ensure that all our people understand and follow correct procedures."

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