On the 3rd June 2017 a young girl lost her life in a road catchpit in Favona, South Auckland, the second catchpit death in New Zealand following the death of a man in 2012 in a car park in Wellington. Both incidents were linked to members of the public seeking to retrieve personal items dropped into a catchpit. Auckland Council has no appetite for risks that compromise the health, safety, and wellbeing of, or cause harm to staff, customers or the community (Auckland Council Risk Management Framework).
Auckland Council has an active programme of assessing hazards and risk associated with its stormwater network. A tool has been developed to standardize the assessment process and assign a hazard risk score to each asset. This assists by ensuring that the highest risk assets in each asset class are identified for appropriate safety upgrades. A substantial annual budget is allocated to upgrading assets to mitigate the identified risks. Since 2013, a programme to assess and address safety risks for stormwater ponds, manholes, open lined channels and culvert inlets and outlets has been in place.
Following this tragic death, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport undertook a review into safety at catchpits. The review is a natural progression of the Council’s well-developed hazard and risk assessment programme. The completed review provided a holistic approach considering all risks, and importantly that a risk is not unacceptably increased in order to decrease another. It assessed public and operational safety risk – identifying factors influencing other key risks such as missing or dislodged catchpits, surface water catchpit hazards, and hazards to operational staff when maintaining catchpits.
The outcome of the assessment identified potential improvements to catchpit grate design – making them only openable with a special tool, similar to manholes; improvements to catchpit back entry; and ensuring a safety in design process is undertaken when selecting and locating catchpits. The difficulty in predicting the location of the future catchpit hazards means making an evidence-based decision on where to retrofit additional safety interventions cannot currently be done with confidence. Education of the community on the hazards associated with catchpits is also an important part of risk reduction, as is continually reviewing maintenance health and safety procedures with consideration of both maintenance staff and the public.
Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are implementing recommendations from the catchpit safety review. Sharing the lessons from this tragic incident is a critical step to help avoid a similar event occurring in the future.