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December 8, 2010

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Farm worker suffered severe electrical burns

A potato farm has been fined £10,000 for failing to educate contractors about the dangers of working underneath overhead power lines.

Ely Magistrates’ Court heard that David McMullan was moving irrigation pipes at Crouchmoor Farm in Littleport, Cambridgeshire when one of the pipes struck a 33,000-volt overhead power line.

He was employed as a contractor by the farm’s owner Waldersley Farms Ltd to carry out seasonal labourer work. On 15 Oct 2009, he was asked to move an irrigation system from one field and place it in another field. The system was formed of several nine-metre-long sections of aluminium pipes, which needed to be individually detached before they could be moved.

As he was moving the final pipe, he flipped it over and it struck the power lines. He suffered internal injuries, and severe burns to his hands, arms, legs, and feet, which led to his big toe being amputated. He spent eight weeks in hospital and was unable to return to work for five months owing to his injuries.

An HSE inspector attended the scene on the same day of the incident and issued a Prohibition Notice, which required Waldersley Farms to review its method of work when working underneath power lines. The company also received an Improvement Notice requiring it to introduce training for contractors so they are aware of the dangers.

Waldersley Farms appeared in court on 23 November and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £2223 towards costs.

In mitigation, the company said it has reviewed its method of work and now supervises all contractors who are working near a source of electricity. It told the court that all of its direct employees had received training about the dangers of working near power lines prior to the incident, and has subsequently extended the training to include all sub-contractors. The company also said it had no previous convictions.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Stephen Faulkner said: “This was a horrible incident, which was entirely preventable had his employers made Mr McMullan aware of the overhead power lines and the risk they posed to the working environment.

“Mr McMullan is lucky to be alive. However, that doesn’t deflect from the severity of the injuries he suffered and the nine weeks he spent in hospital.

“Between ten and 15 people are killed each year by inadvertent contact with overhead power lines, and, on average, two of these work in agriculture. Employers must ensure that appropriate training and supervision is provided for employees and contractors and a sufficient risk assessment must also be carried out.”

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13 years ago

I was disheartened by yet another avoidable, tragic accident. HOWEVER, I was also struck by the quoted total of 15 fatalities per annum due to contact with overhead lines. According to statistics confirmed with HSE infoline this morning (URL there were THREE electrical fatalities for the last 12 months. One in manufacturing, Two in Construction (same accident) but NONE in Agriculture! This sort of exaggeration is bad for the profession!