Thursday 18 January 2018

London manhole covers 'exploding' in unexpected side effect from wettest winter on record

Manhole covers have been 'exploding' due to unprecedented levels of rainfall
Manhole covers have been 'exploding' due to unprecedented levels of rainfall

Tom Brooks-Pollock

It may have caused devastation and misery for farmers and flooded householders, but the wettest winter on record is now having an unexpected side effect: exploding manhole covers.

Health and safety experts have suggested the explosions are the result of unprecedented levels of rainfall between December last year and February.

This week, Piccadilly in central London was closed off after multiple explosions blew off a manhole cover and engulfed a lorry. Although the Piccadilly explosion has not been linked directly to rainfall— it is thought that rain is seeping into electrical “link boxes”, causing faults and, sometimes, explosions.

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show there have been 64 reports of manholes exploding this year so far.

UK Power Networks, which runs the manholes in London, has been warned by the body to improve safety checks. John Steed, principal specialist inspector at the HSE, said: “Last year, when we recorded the increase, UK Power Networks sent off failed link boxes for examination and it was concluded moisture was the predominant cause. We called directors in, and we had a couple of meetings with them, and we made it very clear to them that we are expecting them to manage their assets a lot better, to carry out more inspections.”

As a result, he said, UK Power Networks has installed dedicated teams in London.

Colin Wingate, from Harrow, north London, who was left using a wheelchair after being injured by an exploding manhole, said: “They are not doing enough to ensure that these accidents — incidents, call it what you like — don’t happen anymore. Because, sooner or later, at the rate that these explosions are continuing, sooner or later someone is going to lose their life.”

A spokesman for UK Power Networks said: “We believe more faults are being reported and recorded, but this does not necessarily mean there has been an increase. We regularly inspect, maintain and reinforce our network to ensure that London maintains its position as the most reliable electricity network in Britain.”


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