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May 28, 2009

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Untrained council worker strikes power cable

A London council has been fined after a workman struck a power cable while digging a hole in a pavement.

City of London Magistrates’ Court heard how a temporary worker, who had originally been hired by for London Borough of Havering Council as a driver and environmental operator, was installing street benches with a colleague, when the incident occurred on 5 December 2007.

The workman been instructed to install and replace nine benches across the borough, but he was not given a system of work to follow and had not carried out the task before. He was attempting to install a bench on a road in Romford, using a hydraulic breaker to dig a hole in the pavement, when he struck an 11,000v underground power supply. The incident could have proved fatal but he was fortunate to escape with only flash burns to his face.

Havering Council appeared in court on 19 May and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £9810 towards the HSE’s costs.

In mitigation, the council entered an early guilty plea and said it had no recent similar convictions. It has since revised its risk assessment and put in place an action plan, which will ensure only qualified workers undertake street work.

A spokesman for the council said: “The safety of our staff is of utmost importance to us and we deeply regret any injury sustained by any employee. We apologise to [our employee] for the accident.  After this incident in 2007, we carried out a thorough investigation. As a result, we have reviewed our working practices and put in place a range of measures to improve staff safety in these situations.”

HSE inspector, John Crookes, told SHP: “The council’s management failed to appreciate the risks that the workers were exposed to. No task-specific risk assessment had been undertaken, which would have identified the hazards and the control measures needed to prevent this accident.

“The council has employees who are qualified to carry out street work but it chose to allow staff who were not competent in this area to do the task. This error led to two workers’ safety being put at risk and resulted in one of those men receiving an electric shock, which could easily have proved fatal.”

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