Subcontractor Dodges Fatality as Excavator Fells 11kV Power Line

A sub-contracted operator had a close brush with electrocution when the raised arms of his 20-tonne excavator hit an 11kV power line as he drove up a slope at Scottish Water Bathgate in West Lothian, Livingston Sheriff Court was told yesterday.

On 25 June 2011, Raymond Harper had not been directed to the main site office where he would have received induction, and as a result he proceeded to operate on the site without having been made aware of any hazards, including the overhead power line.

The contact sent an 11kV current through the excavator, the overhead cable split and the live cable landed on the ground close by other workers. Had Mr Harper made any efforts to leave the vehicle, he could have sustained serious or even fatal injury. Luckily he remained in his cab.

The incident happened on a site under the control of engineering firm George Leslie Ltd, which was responsible for carrying out emergency ground works and repairs to water pipes.

The company was prosecuted after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the company should have done more to ensure that the risk of contact with the overhead power line to personnel working on the site, particularly visiting workers, had been adequately controlled.

The HSE investigation concluded that the company, as principal contractor, had failed to properly assess the risks to drivers on the site, failed to identify areas on site where vehicles could safely move, in particular when required to pass under live overhead electrical power cables, and failed to provide and maintain machinery and safe systems of work.

It had also failed to isolate the overhead powerline and erect sufficient barriers or display warning notices providing cross bar clearance heights and directions to drivers and failed to ensure that any vehicle needing to pass under live power lines had height restrictors fitted to any parts that could be elevated.

Furthermore, it had failed to ensure that workers visiting the site were provided with adequate instruction and supervision to ensure that they completed a site induction programme and were made aware of the presence of live overhead cables

The court was told that the company had previously been fined £25,000 after a prosecution in Feb 2004 relating to an incident where an employee was killed after falling from height. George Leslie was fined £6,600 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Ritchie McCrae, said: “There is no excuse for the inadequate level of planning and control which should have eliminated or controlled the risk of contact with an overhead power line and allowed the work to be completed safely.”

In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation.

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