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October 29, 2009

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Teenagers suffer power-line shocks

Two teenage workers suffered electric shocks while operating a telehandler underneath power lines at a pig farm in Norfolk.

Damian Retallick, 17, and Craig Payne, 16, were working for pork producer Bowes of Norfolk when the incident took place on 23 May 2007. They were using a telehandler to load straw bales on to a trailer in a field at the company’s Hilborough Pig Unit, in Watton.

Damian was sat in the cab of the telehandler, which was positioned underneath overhead power lines. Craig was standing next to the machine and noticed that that the trailer was starting to become overloaded. He climbed on to the side of the cab and told his colleague to stop loading the straw so they could move the full trailer. Damian then switched off the power to the telehandler, which caused the machine’s mechanical arm to release and rise coming within inches of the power lines. Electricity from the cables arched into the mechanical arm, and sent an 11,000-volt charge through the machine.

Both received electric shocks and Craig suffered burns to his legs and feet. He was airlifted to hospital and where he had surgery to amputate the little toe on his left foot, and part of his big toe. Damian was fortunate to escape with only minor injuries.

The HSE visited the site on the day of the incident and issued a Prohibition Notice to prevent the use of high-reach equipment underneath power lines. HSE inspector Joanne Williams said: “Young employees are particularly vulnerable to accidents, so it is vital they are adequately supervised, especially when working around high hazards such as overhead power lines. Too many people are dying in needless accidents on British farms and this incident could have easily proved fatal.

Bowes of Norfolk appeared at Norwich Crown Court on 14 October and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA, reg. 3(1) and 19(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, for failing to protect young workers, and reg.4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, for inadequately planning electrical work. It was given a total fine of £25,000 and ordered to pay £23,095 in costs.

The firm said it had no previous convictions and had complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notice. It has also installed fencing to prevent work being carried out within 10 metres of the power lines.

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