Construction firm fined after electric shock scars worker for life

A Kent-based construction and engineering company has been fined after an employee suffered severe burns when his jack hammer touched unexposed underground electricity cables.

Bradley Marsh, 28, from Ashford suffered 62 per cent burns to his upper body, face, neck and arms when he inadvertently struck the 11,000 volt cable while working at a construction site in Tovil, Maidstone.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Mr Marsh’s employer, Dwyer Engineering Services Ltd, was in breach of a number of safety regulations after the incident at Burial Ground Lane, on 12 June 2009.

Maidstone Magistrates Court heard the firm did not have a capable supervisor on site, which contributed to poor practices being commonplace. There was also no suitable system in place for the identification of underground cables.

Additionally, Mr Marsh was not trained to dig within 500mm of the live cables, a factor which led to the electrocution.

Dwyer Engineering Services Ltd, of Shottenden Manor Farm in Ashford, Kent, earlier pleaded guilty to breaching 25(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. Today (12 October 2010), the company was fined £20,000 and was also ordered to pay costs of £14,532.

Mr Marsh was hospitalised for six weeks after the incident, and as a result of his injuries cannot expose himself to direct sunlight, due to skin grafts. His house has been adapted so he can sleep downstairs and he is unlikely to work again.

HSE Inspector, David Fussell, said:

“This incident was wholly avoidable and demonstrates the need for site safety in the construction sector, especially as contact with live electricity is a common cause of serious incidents. In this case, the employer failed to assess the risks to the operator who was digging in close proximity to 11,000 volt electrical cables.

“The fact that serious injury or death can result from contact with electricity, either via personnel, machinery or vehicles, makes it all the more essential for employers to have safe working procedures for any work involving electrical plant, cabling or equipment.

“If Dwyer Engineering Services Ltd had been prepared to spend a little time locating underground services, using signs, maps, and locating devices, then this incident would have been avoided.”

HSE provides clear guidance on working safety on construction sites and avoiding danger from underground services in booklet HSG47. All construction companies and associated trades are encouraged to look at this guidance to prevent incidents.