Council in the dock for two power-line collisions17 September 2012
A Welsh council’s failure to learn from an incident, in which a refuse-collection vehicle broke an overhead power cable, led to the occurrence of a similar incident a few months later.
Brecon Magistrates’ Court heard that both incidents took place in Ystradgynlais, Wales, when employees from Powys County Council were carrying out kerb-side collections of recycling from residential properties.
On 3 June 2010, council workers were loading the contents of recycling bins into a collection vehicle in Lluest. The vehicle struck an overhead power line as it was raising some bins to empty their contents into the body of the lorry. The impact caused one of the cables to snap, and it fell into the road in front of a stationary taxi, narrowly avoiding two workers who were operating the collection vehicle.
On 25 October that year, the council was carrying out a collection in Tudor Street using a larger vehicle. When the truck lifted to tip up the refuse, it also struck and broke an overhead power cable. The cable fell and struck a car, which was waiting behind the truck. Nobody was hurt in the incident.
The HSE investigated both incidents and found the council had failed to adequately assess the risks posed by power lines. It had not trained staff so they were able to assess a safe distance at which to tip the vehicle when near electricity cables. It also failed to identify safe areas for the work to be carried out on collection routes where overhead lines were located.
The council was issued a Prohibition Notice on 10 November 2010, which ordered it to stop operating tipping vehicles in the vicinity of power lines. HSE inspector Helen Jones said: “Powys County Council failed to take all reasonably-practicable measures to avoid the vehicles coming into contact with overhead lines, which could have had tragic consequences.
“Lessons should have been learned after the first incident, but they clearly weren't and it is disappointing that it took a further near-miss for appropriate action to be taken.”
Powys County Council appeared in court on 12 September and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined a total of £9300 and ordered to pay £15,990 in costs.
In mitigation, the council said it removed the vehicles from service following the second incident and replaced them with new vehicles that don’t tip.
After the hearing, a spokesperson for Powys County Council said: “The county council takes matters of health and safety extremely seriously and cooperated fully with the HSE.
“The council accepted full responsibility for the incident and carried out its own inquiry in order to avoid similar occurrences in the future. It’s the first time the council has faced such a prosecution and it accepts the findings of the magistrates.”
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