• Robert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors Part 8: Electrocution

ELECTROCUTION

Death from electrocution

In June 2010 Bradley Watts, a 21-year old subcontractor, was lagging pipes in the loft space of Natures Way Foods premises in Chichester. He came into contact with a 240 volt live electrical cable and was killed.The live cable was part of an old system which had been removed by the company in 2008. It was not identified in any way. Its existence and nature was not known to the company.The company had plenty of opportunity to deal with redundant cables. It had always assumed that they were not live. If the old cabling had been removed in a systematic and controlled way, or if subsequent checks of the loft space had identified examples of poor practice, the death of Watts could have been avoided.

Death from electrocution

In March 2009 Jake Herring, a trainee design engineer, was carrying out electrical testing work at Grundfos Pumps Ltd’s factory in Windsor. He was working unsupervised while he tested a live electrical control panel.There was no formal training plan for Herring to undertake electrical testing. He came into contact with a live 3 phase electrical system and was killed. At the time of the incident he was working unsupervised outside the designated electrical test area.The company had not adequately risk assessed the testing of live electrical panels to identify a safe system of work. It had failed to provide suitable training and supervision.

Electrical explosion death

In May 2008 John Higgins, an employee of UK Power Networks (Operations) Ltd, was working at an electrical substation in Chelmsford. He was working on a transformer tap charger which was a device for manually adjusting voltage ratios. The tap charger exploded. Higgins suffered fatal injuries. The explosion caused a fire and blacked out a large part of Chelmsford. The company had failed to properly assess work with tap changers and to devise procedures for the work. It had also failed to adequately train employees. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented that Higgins’ death illustrated how dangerous work on or near electrical distribution networks could be, and how imperative it was that employers, large or small, ensured that all activities involving high voltage equipment were properly assessed and that safe systems of work were put in place.

Serious burn injuries

In May 2015 a worker was trying to replace a traffic light pole in central Gloucester. He came into contact with a live underground cable. He suffered an electric shock and severe burn injuries to his hands, arms, stomach, face, legs and chest. This was the first time that a group of workers including the victim had worked on an Amey LG Ltd project. Amey had not provided adequate information on the location of underground services. The company’s supervision of the work was inadequate and it had not properly managed the risks from the underground services.

Runner electrocuted

In July 2012 James Kew was running on land in Essex when he came into contact with a high voltage cable. He was electrocuted. The cable was 1.5 metres above the ground. It straddled a well-used footpath. Parts of a porcelain insulator had disintegrated on a wooden pole which supported the cable. The cable should have been 5.5 metres above the ground. Members of the public had reported the matter to UK Power Networks (Operations) Ltd. The company should have immediately de-energised that part of the network. It did not do so and dispatched a technician to the scene. Mr Kew was killed before the technician arrived. UKPN had failed to fully assess the risk posed to members of the public. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have made the following comments after the case:

  • Witnesses to the incident had suffered severe trauma and stress-related illness.

  • Distribution network operators have an absolute duty to ensure that they do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of members of the public who may be put at risk by the operation of their undertakings.

  • The risks posed by high voltage conductors which descend below the safe statutory height is entirely foreseeable.

  • Network operators must have robust procedures in place that facilitate dynamic risk assessment and the immediate implementation of effective risk control measures to protect the public.

Worker electrocuted

In January 2015 BAM Construction Ltd was constructing a railway operating centre in Basingstoke. BAM appointed Shoreland Projects Ltd as groundworks contractor for the project. Work began to install lampposts on the site entrance road. One of the lampposts touched 11kv overhead power lines as it was being lifted into position by an excavator. Mark Bradley was electrocuted. He suffered multiple life-changing injuries including severe burns to his neck. There had been a failure to properly identify the presence of the overhead power lines and to appropriately plan the work. No suitable control measures were in place to prevent contact with the overhead power lines.

Death by electrocution

In October 2010 Martin Walton was working at a data centre in Hounslow, Middlesex. He was working on a power distribution unit when his forehead made contact with the 415 volt live terminals of a unit. Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Ltd had been contracted to carry out infrastructure works at the site. Norland Managed Services Ltd was contracted to provide mechanical and electrical maintenance and had control of the site. The underlying cause of the fatality was a succession of failures which indicated the complete breakdown of Balfour Beatty’s management of health and safety in relation to the project. Norland was responsible for the management of the impact of the construction project on the operational infrastructure under their control. It issued a permit to work to Walton, allowing him to reroute the existing site power supply through a new distribution unit, in the knowledge that it had the potential to receive a power supply from a source not under their control and without confirming that the other supply was isolated.

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