South West Water has been fined £1.8million after being sentenced for its part in the death of 54-year-old Falmouth man Robert Geach.

Truro Crown Court heard Mr Geach, a catchment operator, was working on the sand filtration unit of the Falmouth Waste Water Treatment Works on December 30, 2013, when a colleague discovered him face down in water. He died at the scene having drowned.

A November 2015 inquest found Mr Geach's death could have been avoided if South West Water had taken steps to remedy issues around working on the tanks, which had been recognised by people higher up in the company.

He died after falling through a hatch which he was using to service the tank system, and since his death all such systems have been replaced with a smaller 'cat-flap2 opening.

Concerns were also raised at the inquest about the company's lone worker policy, which involved an automated system with an operative ID and pin number, which would attempt to contact a lone worker before raising the alarm with a call centre, and then an on-call operative. This meant that Mr Geach was only found three hours after the alarm was first raised, which included three unsuccessful attempts to contact him on his mobile phone. The company's lone worker system has now also been changed.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to identify the risk of drowning with the maintenance activity which was undertaken by Mr Geach and his colleagues on a regular basis.

South West Water Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, and was fined £1.8million and ordered to pay costs of £41,607.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Georgina Speake, said: “This tragic case could have been prevented if the company had reduced the size of the hatch used to access the sand filters, and properly considered the hazards of the operation, including how close Mr Geach was to the water.

“Mr Geach was exposed to the risk of drowning which could have been easily been controlled if the task had been properly planned and simple measures adopted earlier which South West Water failed to do so adequately.”

Mr Geach's widow, Sylvia, told the packet: "The last three years have been a difficult time for our family. We are pleased, however, that concerns we had around lone working and health and safety have been acknowledged by the court.

"Although too late for Rob, changes to working practices and the lone working system have been made. We would like to thank the police, the GMB and the Health and Safety Executive for their kindness and support throughout this time."

Stephen Bird, managing director of South West Water, said: "The death of Robert Geach in December 2013 was a tragedy. Robert was a valued colleague and we very much regret the devastating loss to his family and friends.

"South West Water takes its health and safety responsibilities very seriously, and has co-operated fully with the investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, as was acknowledged in court.

"South West Water has tried to ensure it learns all that it can from this incident and will continue to strive to meet the highest standards of Health and Safety.

"As was said at the Inquest, a review of our health and safety arrangements was already underway at the time of Robert's death. 

"Since then we have updated procedures and policies, carried out comprehensive staff training, and invested in new equipment and technologies, particularly to ensure the safety of staff who may be working alone.  We believe our lone worker protection now sets the standard across the industry."