Openreach fined £1.3 million after engineer was swept to his death in flooded river

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Telecoms company Openreach has been fined £1.34 million in relation to the death of one of its workers, who was swept away by a flooded river while attempting to repair a telephone line in Wales.

Alun Owen, from Bethesda in Gwynedd, died on 6 October 2020 after falling into the River Aber in Abergwyngregyn, which was swollen by flood water at the time.

The 32-year-old had waded into the river to reach an island in the centre, from which he had attempted to throw a new telephone cable across to the other side after taping a hammer to it, said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident.

Alun Owen, aged 32, was described by his family as having a "loving and selfless character". Photograph: HSE

While attempting to cross the remaining section of the river, Mr Owen slipped and fell, and was swept away by the current.

The HSE investigation found that Openreach had “no safe system of work in place for work on or near water”. Furthermore, Mr Owen and other employees who had previously been working by the river had not received training or instruction on how to work safely around water.

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

An Openreach spokesperson said the company accepted that it “could’ve done more to make sure our engineers had the right guidance, processes and training when working on, or near, water”, and that it was “very sorry” it had fallen short of the required standards.

The spokesperson added: “Nothing can make up for the loss of Alun. He was a well-respected and popular colleague, and the impact of his death remains significant and is felt directly by people across Openreach. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

Openreach said it is “working hard to make sure something like this never happens again”.

Mr Owen’s family described him as having a “friendly, loving and selfless character”.