Two Companies Fined After A Worker received serious electrical shock

Two companies have been fined after a worker received serious electrical burns during demolition work. Chelmsford Magistrates Court heard how; in April of 2017, two demolition workers employed by sub-contractor R B Haigh & Sons were removing electrical distribution equipment from a switchgear room at a site in Thaxted, Essex. Mr Alan Banks had been told by the Principal Contractor that the electrical equipment had been isolated. To reassure his colleague that it was safe he threw a crowbar at the 400V ac equipment. This came into contact with live exposed wires, causing a flashover and temperatures of several thousand degrees, followed by a subsequent fire. As a result, Mr Banks suffered serious burn injuries and was immediately hospitalised.

Investigations by HSE found that the task being undertaken had not been properly planned and suitable control measures were not implemented to ensure the isolation of the power supply. The principal contractor, A J Wadhams & Co Ltd failed to follow the clear procedures outlined in their risk assessments and method statements, which identified that all electrical equipment must be treated as live unless written authorisation proved otherwise.

Russell Haigh and Stuart Haigh (Partners of R B Haighs & Sons) of Thaxted, Essex, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and have been fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3882.65. AJ Wadhams & Co Limited trading as Wadham Homes of Charterhouse Street, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and have been fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3816.60.

After the hearing HSE inspector Adam Hills said “This incident has had a significant impact on Mr Banks life and the injuries could so very easily have been fatal. Had the companies followed the control measures outlined in their respective risk assessments, then this incident would not have occurred. Never assume that an electrical supply is disconnected. Always check with the Distribution Network Operator or a qualified electrician to obtain written proof of isolation before commencing work.”

HSE has published the following guidance on how to safely undertake work in proximity to electricity: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg85.htm

NOTE: Once again, this particular case reinforces the need to ensure that risk prevention measures and precautionary controls are implemented where stated within Risk Assessments and Method Statements – i.e. we do what we say we will do. One could argue that the fact that prevention measures and precautionary controls were specified; but not implemented, is a greater safety management failure. Of course, risk assessment itself is only half the job – Managers and Supervisors must then ensure that workers are then adequately instructed as to the risk prevention measures and precautionary controls to be implemented and then monitor to ensure compliance.

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Authors: Ernie Taylor

Published: 01 May 2019

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