YORKSHIRE Water is to use new fibreglass manhole covers as an alternative to metal in a trial aimed at saving the company cash.
It claims metal theft - sparked by the rising value of scrap around the world - was costing the company hundreds of thousands of pounds every year and South Yorkshire is a hotspot.
Soaring commodity prices are fuelling the underground market for copper, lead and other non-ferrous metals, with thieves wreaking havoc across communities - stealing from buildings, stripping telecommunication cables and targeting the railways.
Last year, Yorkshire Water spent about £410,000 replacing stolen metal parts from its operational sites and facilities, including about seven kilometres of earthing cable, tonnes of lead and galvanised metal grating, locks and chains, metal signs and site fencing.
The firm claims South Yorkshire is a ‘particular hotspot’ and claims last year the company had to replace hundreds of manhole covers.
A spokesman said: “This theft costing a significant amount of money, but it is also putting lives at risk.
“Indeed, the company has already seen a number of incidents where unsuspecting members of the public have injured themselves on open manholes, after their covers had been removed and
stolen for scrap.”
The firm is trialling plastic covers, which are cheaper to install, and have no scrap value.
The will be rolled out across the region if reports of thefts drop.
Peter Ramsay, security and emergency planning manager, said: “Metal theft is a serious issue for us and we’re trialling a number of new initiatives, including using fibreglass manhole covers, in our ongoing efforts to reduce it.
“The problem ranges from the opportunist theft of one of our sewer or hydrant covers, to the organised theft of hundreds of meters of cable or copper pipe, and even larger appliances such as lifting equipment and generators, with thieves targeting any metals which they consider of value, often risking their lives, and those of others, in the process.
“Our trial to deploy fibreglass manhole covers to replace their metal counterparts is our latest initiative and one we’re confident has the potential to make a real difference.”
Andrew Burton, of castings company Structural Science Composites, which produces the covers, said: “Our composite manhole covers cannot be melted down or reused.
“If a thief gets their hands on one of our covers, they’ll realise very quickly that it’s much lighter than a cast-iron cover and not worth stealing.”
For more on this story, see The Star tomorrow.