Contracting mistakes

Over the past year, at least four companies have received hefty fines after contractors made errors. How can others manage their contractors to avoid such problems? Alex Marshall reports

In June, United Utilities was fined £600,000 for an incident that left a 1.7 km stretch of a brook near Bolton in Greater Manchester almost devoid of life. With the media attention that followed, the size of the fine was hard to miss.

But one thing could have been missed by anyone reading that coverage: the fact United Utilities was not behind the incident. Instead, the blame lay with one of its contractors, KMI+, a joint venture between four companies – Kier Infrastructure and Overseas, J Murphy & Sons, Interserve and Mouchel.

The pollution occurred when KMI+ staff were removing sodium hypochlorite – the main component of bleach – from a tank at a water treatment works. Rather than pump out the final 300 litres of the chemical, they decided to dilute it with water, letting it overflow into a bunded area overnight. But neither KMI+ nor United Utilities knew there were faults in the drainage system and the chemical seeped into the brook, destroying a trout spawning ground and killing more than 900 fish.

Leading by example

That case is only the most recent example of a firm being prosecuted due to a contractor’s error. In March, Molson Coors Brewery was fined £100,000 after a ...

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