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The man can be seen wrapped in a blanket inside the hole. (Photo credit: ABC News)

  • High profile rescue operation after illegal excavation collapses
  • Individual did not apply for permission to access sewer main
  • Approval may be required before working near Water Corporation pipelines and other infrastructure

The recent dramatic rescue in Hillarys (25 June) of a man stuck down a 3-metre-deep hole highlights the dangers of digging near water and sewer pipelines, as Water Corporation reports weekly occurrences of both unauthorised and unsafe excavations. 

Prior approval is required if working near water and wastewater infrastructure to protect it from damage and maintain safe and reliable water services to the community. Financial penalties apply for anyone accessing Water Corporation infrastructure without permission.

In Hillarys, Water Corporation supported dozens of DFES and St John Ambulance personnel, using a vacuum truck to carefully excavate sand around the man’s trapped leg.

By law, approval is required if proposed activities are on, over, under or within certain distances (Prescribed Proximities) of Water Corporation infrastructure. These protections also ensure third parties avoid costs and inconvenience associated with removing or altering works to prevent damage.

Water Corporation Head of Safety and Wellbeing, Tony Dennis, highlighted the importance of requesting permission and the dangers of unsafe excavations.

“The recent incident in Hillarys highlights the pitfalls of illegally accessing Water Corporation infrastructure without permission. While the gentleman was lucky to escape serious injury or worse, unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated case,” Mr Dennis said.

“In Perth alone, we’re seeing multiple cases a week where people either don’t have permission or it’s unsafe. They are putting themselves and our services at high risk by not appreciating the potential hazards around our infrastructure, and the complexities of safe excavations.

“The approvals process for working near our assets exists to help protect the public and our infrastructure from harm. The Hillarys incident wouldn’t have happened if this process – detailed on the Water Corporation website – had been followed. It was illegal and dangerous work, and you risk a fine too.

“If in any doubt, engage a licensed plumber or builder to conduct any work near our assets. And, importantly, don’t dig blind – use the free Before You Dig Australia service to check for any hidden underground networks.”

Water Corporation’s approvals process requires the submission of an Asset Protection Risk Assessment (APRA) form. Further information is available on the Water Corporation website.

Any suspected illegal work around water and wastewater infrastructure should be reported to Water Corporation’s 24/7 faults, emergencies and security line on 13 13 75

To report concerns about defective or unlicensed plumbing work, contact Building and Energy on 1300 489 099 or

Safe excavation practices
Before commencing any excavation, contractors and the general public are strongly advised to use the free Before You Dig Australia (BYDA) service to check for any hidden underground networks at the proposed dig site. 

Damaging assets – whether water, gas, electricity or telecommunications – can lead to service interruptions, delays, costly repairs and, in the worst-case scenario, injury or death.

WorkSafe WA has a code of practice to be used by anyone involved in any aspect of work related to excavation, which is one of the most hazardous construction operations.

The document, available on the WorkSafe WA website, provides practical guidance to prevent occupational injury and disease in all workplaces where excavation and associated earthworks are performed.

Firefighters were able to brace the walls before attempting the "delicate rescue". (Photo credit: ABC News)