Friday 20 January 2017

Firm with lax safety record poised to get €400m in state work

Michael Brennan, Deputy Political Editor

Published 22/08/2011 | 05:00

Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

A COMPANY with a controversial safety record is on the verge of getting a €400m state maintenance contract.

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Balfour Beatty is understood to have been given "preferred-bidder" status by Bord Gais Networks for a nine-and-a-half-year gas-networks maintenance contract.

It is the first time Bord Gais Networks (BGN) has devised a contract of such size -- previously it employed several different contractors to do the work.

But Balfour Beatty has been involved in a string of court cases which have led to it being fined in connection with serious accidents and deaths. These include

> 1997: fined stg£1.2m (€1.36m); guilty plea -- collapse of the Heathrow tunnel being built for the Heathrow Express service at Heathrow Airport.

> 1999: fined stg£500,000 (€568,000); guilty plea -- derailment of a freight train in Essex.

> 2006: fined stg£7.5m (€8.5m) in connection with the Hatfield train crash in Britain, where it was responsible for track maintenance. Four people died and 102 passengers were injured.

> 2007: fined stg£180,000 (€204,000) -- fatal electrocution of a track worker in Britain.

According to a reliable source, Balfour Beatty has been selected as the "preferred bidder" ahead of at least three Irish companies shortlisted for the contract.

The contract, which includes laying gas mains and maintaining gas pipelines, is expected to be awarded in October.

A Balfour Beatty spokesman said the company acknowledged fully all that had happened in the past.

Lessons

"As a business, we've learnt fundamental lessons which have transformed our safety performance and continue to shape the way we do business," he said.

The spokesman said that safety would be its "over-arching priority" in whatever projects it carried out -- which would include the €297m Gort-Tuam motorway project in Co Galway. He described how Balfour Beatty had instituted a "zero-harm" safety campaign -- and stressed that it was not becoming complacent.

Balfour Beatty, which employs 50,000 people around the world, has also faced questions about its corporate governance.

In 2008, it was fined stg£2.25m (€2.56m) after Britain's Serious Fraud Office alleged inaccurate accounting practices during its rebuilding of the lost Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

And in 2009, it was fined stg£5.2m (€5.9m) by the Office of Fair Trading for alleged bid-rigging offences in the construction industry.

The spokesman said: "We've learnt important lessons and the business has absolutely clear guidelines on all commercial transactions, with ethics and compliance procedures embedded across the business."

Bord Gais Networks said it could not reveal who the "preferred bidder" was for its €400m maintenance contract.

A spokeswoman said that safety was "one of the most important criteria" for judging who was awarded the contract.

Irish Independent

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