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October 26, 2009

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Inadequately planned electrical work “could have caused fatality”

A subcontractor at a petrochemical refinery narrowly avoided serious injury after striking live power cables with a jackhammer.

Falkirk Sheriff Court heard that construction work was taking place at Ineos Manufacturing Scotland Ltd’s facility in Grangemouth, Strilingshire, when the incident took place on 3 November 2006.

A team of subcontractors were widening an existing cable trench so that additional cables could be installed, which would be connected to a new switchboard that was being fitted at the refinery. But the existing power lines had not been isolated, and one of the workers struck two of the live 3,300-volt cables with a jackhammer. He was fortunate to escape with only superficial burns to his hands and face.

HSE inspectors visited the site and discovered that the cables in the trench could have been isolated without causing any power loss to the refinery. There was an identical trench adjacent to where the team was working, which provided power to the site.  The current should have been redirected to this area so that the cables in the open trench could be isolated.

HSE inspector Heather Gates said: “The men are lucky to be alive following this terrible incident, which could easily have been prevented. This type of work requires careful planning and management in order to avoid danger.”

“Ineos Manufacturing Scotland Ltd and contractors should have conducted an adequate risk assessment before work started. They were aware of the live cables but underestimated the risks associated with working so close to them. They did not give sufficient consideration to the option of isolating the cables, nor could they justify why the electricity supply was not isolated.

“Ineos did not use other measures to minimise the risks to staff, such as using digging techniques that would not have damaged cables.”

Inspector Gates revealed that the Procurator Fiscal decided not to bring charges against the injured worker’s employer, RGS UK Ltd, as the company ceased trading following the incident.

Ineos Manufacturing Scotland Ltd appeared in court on 20 October and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, for failing to adequately plan electrical work. It was fined £1500 but no costs are awarded in Scotland.

The firm had no previous convictions and mitigated that it re-evaluated its risk assessment, and re-planned its method of work, before completing the job.

An Ineos spokesperson said: “We take the injury of any person extremely seriously. The events surrounding this incident were thoroughly investigated and full support and cooperation were given to the HSE. Whilst we employed competent contractors to carry out the works we accept that we had the overall duty to ensure the works were completed safely.

“Over the subsequent three years we have made significant changes to the way in which we manage this type of work, in particular with respect to planning, supervision and management of construction projects. Safety is, and will always remain, Ineos’ top priority.”

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