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Tees dredging: Investigation into incident as digger falls into river

An investigation has been launched into an incident at the controversial freeport site which saw an excavator fall into the Tees.

Posted on December 12, 2022

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed that it has opened an investigation following an incident at South Bank Quay where a worker had to “smash their way out” of an excavator that had fallen into the river Tees.

The incident occurred on November 23, which saw a digger that was being used as part of the controversial scheme to dredge the river, fall into the Tees.

The man was taken to James Cook University Hospital where he was discharged on the same day after being treated for injuries to his head and hand.

The Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive has written to Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham to confirm the investigation has been taking place since they were informed on the day of the accident by Foyle & Marine Dredging, the company contracted to dredge the Tees at the South Bank Quay site.

“Should any breaches of health and safety law be identified,” she writes, “appropriate action will be taken.”

In response, Mr Cunningham released the following statement: “I’m pleased to see the HSE taking this matter seriously and carrying out a timely and thorough investigation into the incident on 23 November which saw a worker having to smash their way out of a submerged excavator.

I hope the investigation will not only identify the issues that led to this accident but also solutions that will ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

At the time of the incident Jerry Hopkinson, executive chairman of PD Ports – who own Teesport – said: “I commend the excellent work of our crew who were alerted to reports of a casualty in the water at Teesworks’ South Bank Quay and responded swiftly.

“The man, who was undertaking work on the South Bank Quay was rescued by our pilot cutter crew and taken to a safe landing at Tees Dock until the emergency services attended and took him to hospital. We would like to also express our well wishes for the man and his family.”

The site is currently being dredged as part of the Teesside Freeport project, which is expected to create more than 18,000 jobs in the area, although the dredging has been linked to huge numbers of dead crustaceans found washed up in the area over the last year since work began.

Research conducted by Newcastle University earlier this year concluded that the chemical pyridine was responsible for the mass killing of crabs and lobsters off the Cleveland coast, however, the government denied this.

Dr Gary Caldwell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Marine Biology, said: “Our research has shown that there is no doubt that pyridine is highly toxic to crabs. The levels of pyridine we tested were below the levels recorded by the Environment Agency from the bodies of the dead crabs and yet we saw it caused death in the edible crabs.

“The next step for our research was to explain the scale of the deaths over such a large stretch of the coastline.”

After a parliamentary committee hearing last month heard evidence from a number of people concerned about the death of wildlife in the area, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has set up an independent investigation into the matter.

According to Defra, the panel will work “to assess the evidence and consider all explanations for the sealife mortality, including the possible roles of algal blooms, dredging and pyridine.”


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