Openreach Fined After Engineer’s Fatal Accident

Openreach Limited has been fined £1.34 million after an engineer died while attempting to repair a telephone line.

Alun Owen, a 32-year-old from Bethesda, died on October 6, 2020, after slipping and falling into the River Aber in Abergwyngregyn, where he was swept away. His family described him as a “loving and selfless character.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and North Wales Police investigated the incident, discovering that several Openreach engineers had been working on repairing telephone lines that crossed the river for two months. These engineers had been working both near and in the river. On the day of the incident, flooding had caused the river to be higher and faster flowing than usual.

Mr. Owen entered the water, making his way to an island in the middle of the river to try to throw a new telephone cable across to the other side by attaching it to a hammer and throwing it. While attempting to cross a deeper part of the river, he slipped and was swept away by the strong current.

The investigation revealed that there was no safe system in place for working on or near water. Additionally, Mr. Owen and his colleagues had not received adequate training, information, or instructions for safely working in such conditions.

In a statement, Mr. Owen’s family said: “The genuine love and affection shown to us since the tragedy that unfolded on October 6, 2020, is a real testimony to Al and how everyone just loved his friendly, loving, and selfless character. Although it’s sometimes difficult to see beyond the sorrow, we will keep his memory alive through reminiscing those many precious moments he had in his love-filled life.”

Openreach Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £1.34 million and ordered to pay costs of £15,858.35 at Llandudno Magistrates’ Court on June 5, 2024.

HSE inspector Christina Roberts commented: “This was a tragic incident that resulted in the death of a much-loved young man. Mr. Owen’s family, friends, and colleagues have always remained in our thoughts. His death would have been preventable had an effective system for working on or near water been in place. Mr. Owen should not have been put in the unsafe working situation. Companies should learn the lessons from this incident if they have staff who may work on or near water and be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

North Wales Police Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gibson added: “Our thoughts remain with Alun’s family at this difficult time. North Wales Police worked closely with HSE, and while it was a protracted and lengthy investigation, it was critical that any failings were identified and acted upon.”

This prosecution was brought by HSE senior enforcement lawyer Nathan Cook and supported by HSE paralegal officer Sarah Thomas.