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February 11, 2011

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Contractor had part of skull removed after suffering electric shock

Two companies have been fined after a worker received an electric shock when working underneath overhead power lines.

John Dodsworth, 35, was employed by James Kennedy Concrete Pumping Ltd as a pump operator and was carrying out modifications to sewers near Cockfield, County Durham, when the incident took place on 27 February 2008. The principal contractor at the site, Lumsden and Carroll Construction Ltd, had sub-contracted James Kennedy to pour concrete into a mould to cast a sewer-chamber lid.

Mr Dodsworth was working in a compound pouring concrete into a mould via a pump, which had a 12-metre-long boom to allow the hose to be positioned where required. After he had finished the task, he swung the boom round to return it to a parked position. But, as he lowered it, it came into contact with overhead power lines and he suffered an electric shock from the cables, which carried 22,000 volts of electricity. He received internal and external burns to his hands, head, chest and legs, and was rushed to hospital where he underwent several operations, including skin grafts and surgery to remove part of his skull. He is still in continual pain and has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

The day after the incident the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice to Lumsden and Carroll Construction, which ordered the firm to stop carrying out work of this nature near overhead power lines.

HSE inspector Martin Smith told SHP that the work had been poorly planned. He said: “Construction plant coming into contact with overhead power lines continues to be a frequent cause of incidents, which are often fatal. Mr Dodsworth is lucky to be alive and will have to live with the after-effects of his injuries for the rest of his life.

“If it had been identified that working near the power lines was absolutely essential, then Lumsden and Carroll Construction Ltd and James Kennedy should have planned the work so that the pump was used sufficiently far from the power lines to prevent the incident, and placed physical barriers and warnings at the site to control the work.

“James Kennedy should have made inquiries to ensure that the plant he sent was suitable for the site and that precautions had been taken against well-known risks.”

Lumsden and Carroll Construction appeared at Darlington Magistrates’ Court on 10 February and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 22(1)(a) and reg. 34(2)(c) of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to properly plan the job and exposing workers to the risk of coming into contact with the power lines. It was fined a total of £5000 and ordered to pay £3643 towards costs.

James Kennedy Concrete Pumping Ltd also appeared at the hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.13(2) of the same legislation, for failing to ensure that the work was carried out in a safe manner. It was fined £2000 and £1822 in costs.

Lumsden and Carroll said it had responded to the incident by calling a prompt halt to work at every site where there were overhead power lines to ensure a proper risk assessment had been carried out. It has subsequently changed its method of work at the Cockfield site to complete the job using equipment that could not come into contact with the power lines. It has also sent its staff on risk-assessment training.

James Kennedy told the court it had no previous convictions and had trusted Lumsden and Carroll to create a safe system of work. The firm accepted that it had failed to monitor if the method of work was safe, but argued that most of the blame lay with Lumsden and Carroll, given that it planned the job.

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