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June 3, 2009

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Migrant worker electrocuted after firm ignored power-line warning

A Polish agricultural worker was electrocuted after metal poles he was carrying came into contact with overhead power lines.

Gerard Faltynowski, 26, was working as part of the ‘tunnel squad’ for a soft fruit farming company in July 2006. He and 11 other migrant workers were erecting a polytunnel on farm land near Blairgowrie, Scotland.

The workers were installing 8-metre-high hoops on to support posts, so that sheeting could be placed over the top of them to act as a roof. But during the operation they ran out of hoops and so started to install samller hoops. This meant the support posts needed to be extended, so that all the hoops were all positioned at the same height.

Mr Faltynowski was asked to collect a number of metal extension posts from the far end of the field. To save time he connected 13 of the 0.5-metre extensions together and carried them vertically as he walked back towards his colleagues. The polytunnel was situated below power lines, which were 5.7 metres above the ground. As he approached the tunnel a colleague tried to warn him that the posts he was carrying were about to touch the power lines. But the warning came too late and he died instantly from an 11,000v shock.

Following the incident the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice against the site to prevent work from being carried out so close to low overhead power lines. HSE inspector Lawrence Murray revealed that the firm had previously ignored warnings about erecting the tunnel underneath the lines.

Inspector Murray told SHP: “Despite receiving a warning from an electricity linesman who witnessed work being carried out under the lines just days before, the construction of the polytunnel’s metal frames continued.”

The deceased’s employer, Thomas Thompson (Blairgowrie) Ltd, and its managing director, Thomas Peter Mackie Thompson, appeared at Perth Sheriff Court on 26 May. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £9000. The director pleaded guilty to breaching reg.3(1) of the MHSWR 1999 by virtue of s36(1) of the HSWA 1974, for failure to carry out a suitable risk assessment. He was fined £1800. Costs are not awarded in Scotland.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions, and it had fully complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notice by ensuring that no work is carried out within 9 metres of the power lines.

Inspector Murray said: “Mr Faltynowski’s tragic death was entirely preventable, and arose from clear failures to assess and manage the risk of working close to, or under overhead power lines. A suitable and sufficient risk assessment would have identified the danger and the necessary control measures, and a safe system of work would have ensured the safety of the employees.      

“Work that risks contact with overhead power lines should not take place within 9 metres either side of a live power line. If it was not possible for the line to have been de-energised for the duration of the work, the polytunnels should not have been erected there.”

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