Operator dodges 11,000 volts

Plant operator Raymond Harper stayed put when his excavator brought down an overhead power line carrying 11,000 volts. If he’d left the cab he could have died.

Livingston Sheriff Court heard the details this week when Barrhead civil engineering contractor George Leslie Ltd was fined for “serious safety failings” at a site in Bathgate.

Mr Harper, a sub-contracted operator, hit the live power line as he drove up a slope on the Scottish Water site. The contact sent the 11,000-volt current through the excavator, the overhead cable split and the live cable landed on the ground close to other workers. The court was told that had the operator made any effort to leave the vehicle he could have suffered serious or fatal injury.

The incident in June 2011 took place on a site under the control of George Leslie Ltd which was responsible for emergency groundworks and repairs to water pipes. The contractor was prosecuted after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found it should have done more to ensure adequate control of the risk of contact with the power line to personnel, particularly visiting workers.

Mr Harper had not been directed to the main site office where he would have received induction and as a result operated his machine on the site without having been made aware of any hazards.

The investigation concluded that the company, as principal contractor, had:

  • failed to properly assess the risks to drivers on the site
  • failed to identify areas on site where vehicles could safely move, in particular when required to pass under live overhead electrical power cables
  • to provide and maintain machinery and safe systems of work
  • failed to isolate the overhead power line, erect sufficient barriers  or display warning notices providing cross bar clearance heights and directions to drivers
  • failed to ensure that any vehicle needing to pass under live power lines had  height restrictors fitted to any  parts that could be elevated
  • and failed to ensure that workers visiting the site were provided with adequate instruction and supervision to ensure that they completed a site induction programme and were made aware of the presence of live overhead cables

The court was told the company had previously been fined £25,000 after a prosecution in February 2004 relating to an incident where an employee was killed after falling from height.

George Leslie Ltd was fined £6,600 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE inspector Ritchie McCrae commented: “This incident was entirely preventable and could easily have resulted in serious or fatal injuries. George Leslie Ltd was the principal contractor on site and as such, had a duty of care to ensure the safety of all workers on site, including the sub-contractors.

“Regardless of the circumstances, there is no excuse for the inadequate level of planning and control which should have eliminated or controlled the risk of contact with an overhead power line and allowed the work to be completed safely.”


Article posted 9/12/2014