Safety failings put worker in a burns coma

Tuesday, 19th August 2014

A North London labourer received life-threatening burn injuries in an explosion when he severed a 415-volt electrical cable, unaware it was still live.

The worker was hired to work among a team stripping out a property in London prior to refurbishment. He was removing electrical equipment from a basement wall on 1 August 2012, believing it all to be safely disconnected, when the explosion happened.

The worker suffered severe and extensive burns to his limbs, body and face, was in an induced coma in intensive care for two weeks, and in hospital for several more. He still has long-term psychological problems and persistent pain.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and on 16 April 2014 prosecuted the employer for safety failings at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

The court heard that the labourer had started to strip the electrics after he had stopped work on another task to await guidance from the site manager. He believed the equipment was dead – and most of it was.

However a live cable remained which came into the building from the street outside and ended at a cut-off box, from which the rest of the equipment had been isolated by removing fuses. He was using a tool, known as a breaker, to drill and lever the equipment from the wall when he went through the cable.

HSE’s investigation found that the employer had failed to provide suitable signage highlighting the live cable, and had failed to provide barriers around the work equipment for other suitable safety measures. Had these requirements been met then the accident could not have happened in the way that it did.

HSE said cable strikes were a well-known risk in the industry, although this is more common with digging work. Contractors should be mindful of electrical risks during construction work, particularly during demolition and refurbishment.

The employer, Dray Building Ltd, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £9,882 in costs after admitting a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations.

After the case, HSE Inspector Stephron Baker Holmes said:

"It would have been a straightforward matter to provide suitable warning notices and barriers in this case, and it is likely these simple measures would have prevented an incident like this from happening.

"As a result of Dray Building’s failures, however, this man suffered life-changing and initially life-threatening injuries, and the quality of his life remains significantly diminished.

"Controlling the risks at source would have been more effective than relying on assumptions about individuals’ awareness of the risks."

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