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January 30, 2009

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Council in dock over cable shock

A London council has told a court that the risk of hitting buried cables during street works was not foreseeable, in a case brought after a man received a severe electric shock while drilling.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets had appointed T Cartledge Ltd as contractors to replace lamp-posts on the Old Bethnal Green Road. Tower Hamlets had decided that the existing lamp-posts should remain in place until the new lights were installed, so that the electricity supplier could connect the new lights and cut power to the old ones at the same time.

On 3 October 2005, Martin Rose, a T Cartledge employee, was installing the posts when he noticed that the location marked by the Council for one of them was unsuitable because the power cables were surrounded by concrete. While he was excavating the ground he found a layer of concrete approximately 500mm below the surface and used a mechanical breaker to crack it. In doing so, he hit a live 132kV cable underneath the concrete, and he received a shock that left him with 20-per-cent burns to his body.

T Cartledge appeared in court on 27 October, and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, for failing to ensure the safety and welfare of an employee. It was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,555. Concluding a five-day trial on 8 January, City of London magistrates found Tower Hamlets Council guilty of breaching s3(1) of the same Act. The council was fined £15,000 plus costs of £39,089.

In mitigation, T Cartledge admitted it should have requested plans that highlighted where the power cables were located. It has now invested in a computer system that provides access to cable plans.

Tower Hamlets Council blamed Mr Rose for not using a cable-detecting device before using the mechanical breaker. It also said the accident was not foreseeable and it could not have done anything further to prevent it. It has now created a database with information on all the Borough’s cable plans, which is accessible by contractors.

HSE inspector, Janet Seggery, said: “If the employer had simply provided the plans and had supervised the work, then this incident would never have occurred.”

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