Employee conducting a risk assemnt before doing a job for health and saftety to prevent accidents

Any job that requires team members to work at height is dangerous. When other factors, like power lines and limited accessibility, are involved, these jobs have the potential to be fatal. The key to avoiding accidents and injuries is good planning. Carrying out thorough risk assessments and putting time and thought into how the job can be done safely, will minimise the risks to employees and help keep everyone on site safe.

In 2021, one company learned the importance of good planning the hard way. An accident on site resulted in a team member suffering life-changing injuries and the company and its director facing serious legal repercussions – all of which could have been avoided with better planning.

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The Incident

In late 2021, scaffolder Steven Gilmour, 36, was working to erect a temporary roof structure over an open-air depot in Crawley, West Sussex. While lifting a 6m scaffold tube, he struck the live 11kV power line running across the site. The shock caused him to fall over 5 metres to the ground, badly breaking his leg in the process. It also left him with severe electrical burns to both hands which will cause reduced mobility for the rest of his life.

The Consequences

As well as the severe injuries suffered by Gilmour, the incident resulted in serious legal consequences for his employer, Canterbury City Scaffolding Ltd. The company was fined £50,000 and its director, Ian Pepper, was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days.

Preventing Workplace Accidents

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), found that Canterbury City Scaffolding Ltd and its director had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment on a high-risk job. The investigation also highlighted that, despite Canterbury City Scaffolding Ltd being fully aware of the presence of the 11kV power line, no attempt was made by the company to consult UK Power Networks about line voltage or safe clearance.

At the sentencing hearing the HSE inspector stated that the life changing injuries suffered by the scaffolder were completely avoidable. If the company or its director had carried out a thorough risk assessment, sought free advice from the network operator, or implemented well-established precautions designed to prevent accidental contact with the overhead line, Gilmour could have been protected and the entire incident averted.

A good risk assessment would have highlighted the danger of the power lines and provided the contractors with an opportunity to better plan the installation. It also would have given them more time to organise the isolation of the power lines or arrange for additional insulation, that could have been used to further reduce the risks and prevent injury.

Good planning is an integral part of operating a safe workplace. To learn more about the solutions we offer, talk to a member of our expert team today.

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