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March 12, 2009

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Power supply was not identified before electrical repairs

An electrical contractor has been fined £50,000 after a groundworker was knocked unconscious by an electric shock, while replacing lighting columns in a supermarket car park.

The workman had been sub-contracted by South Eastern Electrical plc to replace about 30 lighting columns at a Tesco store in Southend, on 23 July 2006. The firm also sub-contracted two electricians to help carry out the renovations but did not supply them with circuit diagrams.

A supervisor from Southern Eastern pointed out a distribution board to the electricians, which he stated was the point of isolation for most of the columns in the car park. But he failed to clarify how many columns, or which ones, were connected to the board.

The first three columns had been replaced prior to this visit and the electricians assumed that a nearby column was powered by the same distribution board. In fact, the fourth column was connected to a separate board, which had not been isolated and was controlled by a light sensor. The electricians tested the power supply at the column but, at the time, there had been sufficient daylight to prevent the supply being switched on.

As a result of the test, the electricians had no reason to suspect that the column was not powered by the isolated distribution board, and, hence, advised the groundworker that it was safe to begin working on the column. It had been daylight when he began working on the column, but as the light faded, the sensor energised the circuit and he received an electric shock when he touched the cable. The shock knocked him unconscious for a few minutes and he received burns to one of his arms and chest. As a result of these injuries he was unable to return to work for about three weeks.

On 26 February, South Eastern Electrical was found guilty of breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 at Basildon Crown Court. The firm was sentenced on 5 March and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had an excellent safety record and had fully cooperated with the investigation. As a result of the accident it created a new system of work, which includes written instructions and supervision for workers who are in contact with power supplies.

HSE inspector, Dominic Elliss, said: “The risks of working with electricity are well known and this incident could easily have been avoided. Effective identification and isolation of the electrical supply, together with clear instruction and supervision from the very beginning and throughout such work, are essential in preventing such incidents from occurring.

“By failing to implement simple and well-documented controls over such work, electrical contractors place not only themselves but others who may come into contact with their work at risk of very serious injury.”

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