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Power company fined £1m after runner electrocuted

Date:
27 January 2016

A company which maintains the power distribution supplies to London, the South East and East of England has been fined £1million after a runner was electrocuted by a low-hanging high voltage power cable.

Dr James Kew was running on land in Newport, Saffron Walden, Essex, when he came into contact with a cable which should have been 5.5 metres above ground.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard the high voltage cable was only 1.5m above ground (at its lowest point), straddling a well-used footpath, after parts of a porcelain insulator disintegrated on a wooden pole supporting the power cable.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the circumstances and prosecuted UK Power Networks (Operations) Ltd (UKPN).

HSE found that, on 24 July 2012, an insulator on a pole mounted, overhead high voltage power line had failed. This resulted in a conductor falling to 1.5 metres above a cornfield. The conductor was still connected to the power supply, energised at 11KV and was now suspended across the public footpath.

The situation was reported to National Grid by members of the public, which in turn passed the information to UKPN. UKPN spoke with the members of the public who raised the alarm and were told of the conductor’s location and the danger it posed.

UKPN could have immediately ‘de-energised’ that part of the network, but did not do so. Instead, it dispatched a technician to the scene. Twenty minutes before the technician arrived (less than half an hour after the incident was reported), Dr James Kew ran into the live conductor and was electrocuted.

The HSE investigation found that the UKPN failed to fully assess the risk posed to members of the public, nor did it immediately de-energise the powerline and control the risk.

On Tuesday 26 January 2016, UK Power Networks (Operations) Limited, of Southwark Bridge Road, London, was fined £1million, and ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £153,459 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Principal Inspector Paul Carter said: “Dr Kew’s family remains completely devastated by their loss and witnesses to this incident have suffered severe trauma and stress-related illness. The incident was entirely preventable’.

“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 and 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.

“In this tragic case, the death of Dr James Kew could have been prevented by immediate remote de-energisation of the power network which the circumstances on that evening clearly called for.”

For further information visit: http://www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/information/overhead.htm

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 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. More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: www.legislation.gov.uk/
  3. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

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