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Power distribution consultancy fined after employee fall

Date:
25 April 2014

A West Yorkshire power distribution services provider has been fined for safety failings after a worker suffered multiple fractures in a cherry picker fall in Hertfordshire.

Nicholas Chenery, 33, of Stowmarket, suffered a compound fracture to the left leg and three fractured vertebrae to his lower spine in the incident in the Buntingford area on 9 August 2012.

He required extensive surgery, including steel pins and skin grafts for his leg fracture and a back brace fitted for his fractured vertebrae, and may need a further operation on a displaced bone in his left ankle. He was unable to work for several months, although he has now returned.

The Freedom Group of Companies Ltd (FGCL) was today (25 April) prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that more could and should have been done to prevent his fall.

Watford Magistrates’ Court heard that the company had been commissioned by a major energy network operator to replace overhead power lines and distribution poles between Cherry Green and Reed in Hertfordshire. The project started on 2 April 2012 and lasted 44 weeks.

On 9 August, FGCL employees, including Mr Chenery, were rigging three overhead lines that were approximately 500 metres apart. One line was already secured to a distribution pole and a second line was about to be secured.

The second line was secured to the bucket of a cherry picker that carried Mr Chenery, and this was being raised to attach it to the pole. At the same time, some 500 metres away, the line was also being back-tensioned by a dumper truck.

The bucket was approximately 12 metres in the air when the dumper truck pulled the cherry picker over, causing the bucket to fall to the ground with Mr Chenery still inside.

During their investigation, HSE inspectors found that FGCL had fallen well below their own in-house standards regarding the planning, managing and monitoring of such a routine operation within their field of expertise.

In particular, the company had failed to plan and implement a clear and unambiguous communication system, which was clearly an important element to the task as the two teams working on the project were separated by great distances.

FGCL also failed to ensure the operation was supervised effectively.

Freedom Group of Companies Ltd, of Bradford Road, Tingley, West Yorks, was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £11,272 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Speaking after the sentencing hearing, HSE Inspector John Berezansky, said:

“Work at height of this nature is inherently high-risk, and it has to be properly planned, controlled and supervised.

“In this instance, the two teams involved in the task were separated by some 500 metres. Radios and mobile phones were provided; however the level of communication was poor and ambiguous, and the supervision of the task was sub-standard. FGCL should have ensured that the system they had in place was robust enough to deal with the risk.

“Without such a system in place, and in the absence of appropriate supervision, the workers became exposed to a much higher level of risk throughout the operation – especially Mr Chenery, who was in the most vulnerable position in the cherry picker bucket some 12 metres up in the air.

“He sustained serious injuries as a direct result of FGCL’s failure to manage the risks of this operation.”

More details about working safely with cherry pickers can be found on the HSE website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls/mewps.htm

 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. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”
  3. Further HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press

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