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Safety concerns for workers at flooded Yorkshire tunnel

tunnel

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has been urged to investigate planned repairs to the disused Queensbury Tunnel in West Yorkshire.

Campaign group Queensbury Tunnel Society has urged the HSE to investigate the plans, claiming that workers are being exposed to “wholly unnecessary risks”.  

Highways England looks after the tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport. It plans to partly infill and permanently close the tunnel in a move that would cost the taxpayer £3.6M.

The southern end of the tunnel is currently flooded at a depth of 4m after a pumping station installed by Highways England in 2016 was switched off followig a rent dispute with the landowner. 

Queensbury Tunnel Society engineering co-ordinator Graeme Bickerdike warned that workers could be forced to swim through the flooded tunnel in the event of a partial collapse. 

Bickerdike claims that a collapse occurring between the contractor’s work site and the exit of the tunnel would mean workers would only be able to escape by swimming 400m through floodwater or, if the route was not completely blocked, risk passing through the failed section of tunnel.

“Basic health and safety principles set out a hierarchy of controls,” he said. “The preferred approach is for the risks to be eliminated – in other words, instead of undertaking the work, could something else be done?

“Clearly, until the option of restarting the existing pumps has been absolutely ruled out, there is no justification for any physical works to be undertaken.

The 2.3km long Queensbury Tunnel between Bradford and Halifax in Yorkshire has been flooded after a pump was turned off following a dispute over rent with the landowner.

“The situation is entirely of Highways England’s own making so it’s incumbent upon those responsible for it to overcome their embarrassment, engage with the landowner and find a way forward that does not involve exposing the contractor’s workforce to wholly unnecessary risks. We have alerted the HSE to what’s being discussed and suggested that proactive action is needed.” 

Highways England and its contractor AMCO-Giffen plan to implement a new dewatering system which would involve the floodwater being pumped 2.2km to the north end of the tunnel.

Heavy machinery would have to be used to create an access route through a section of the tunnel that is currently blocked by tonnes of fallen rock and buckled scaffold platforms.

The HSE has also been asked to investigate whether flooding should have been resolved before preparatory works got underway at the start of October.

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