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Darlington firm fined after contractor suffered severe burns following underground cable strike

Date:
6 February 2013

A Darlington firm has been fined after a construction worker suffered severe burns to his face, neck and arms when he struck a buried electricity cable.

The 41-year-old of Oakenshaw, County Durham, was installing metal fencing as part of the refurbishment of the car park of Northgate Vehicle Sales Ltd, in Allington Way, Darlington, when the incident happened on 10 November 2010.

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found it had failed in its duty to pass on relevant information to those carrying out construction work, including existing hazards such as buried electricity cables.

Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard today (6 February) that the installation of the fencing required the worker to dig holes in the ground to insert the base of each fence post. He had been told by the main contractor that there were no buried electricity cables, but this was in fact not true.

While using a ground breaker, the tool’s tip pierced through one of two 11kV cables buried around 80cm underground, causing a short circuit that released at least one million watts of energy.

This vaporised the breaker’s tip in a cloud of flame and molten metal, causing severe burns of varying depths to his arms and some burns to his face and neck.

The court was told Northgate Vehicle Sales Ltd had not provided the relevant information about the site to the contractor before work started.

Northgate Vehicle Sales Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 10(1)(b) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £12,000. The company was also ordered to pay £6,123.55 costs.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Jonathan Wills said:

"The injuries sustained by the worker could have easily resulted in him losing his life. He suffered severe burns and is still recovering from those injuries following an incident that could have been avoided had Northgate Vehicle Sales Ltd requested service plans and given them to those carrying out the construction work.

"The risk of striking underground cables is well known throughout the construction industry and the law says you must take precautions to avoid danger.

"There is a wealth of guidance available for contractors and the clients for whom the work is being carried out to help them manage the risks effectively."

The latest figures show that seven people died as a result of contact with electricity or electrical discharge in the workplace in Great Britain in 2010/11 and 88 suffered a major injury.

More information about electricity safety in the construction industry can be found on the HSE website at: www.hse.gov.uk/electricity

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 10(1)(b) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 states: Every client shall ensure that every contractor who has been or may be appointed by the client, is promptly provided with pre-construction information in accordance with paragraph (2). (2) The pre-construction information shall consist of all the information in the client’s possession (or which is reasonably obtainable), including – (a) any information about or affecting the site or the construction work; (b) any information concerning the proposed use of the structure as a workplace; (c) the minimum amount of time before the construction phase which will be allowed to the contractors appointed by the client for planning and preparation for construction work; and (d) any information in any existing health and safety file, which is relevant to the person to whom the client provides it for the purposes specified in paragraph (3). (3) The purposes referred to in paragraph (2) are- (a) to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of persons – (i) engaged in the construction work, (ii) liable to be affected by the way in which it is carried out, and (iii) who will use the structure as a workplace; and (b) without prejudice to sub-paragraph (a), to assist the persons to whom information is provided under this regulation – (i) to perform their duties under these Regulations, and (ii) to determine the resources referred to in regulation 9(1) which they are to allocate for managing the project.

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