Dacorum Borough Council fined after death of employee

Thursday, 4th Sep '08 at 10:03

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned organisations to ensure employees are properly trained to use equipment, following an incident leading to the death of a 29 year-old Council worker.

Dacorum Borough Council of Civic Centre, Hemel Hempstead, was fined £37,500 with £17,500 costs, at St Albans Magistrates Court today (15th July) after pleading guilty to breaches of Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and Regulation 3(1) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.

On 9 November 2006, Ben Richardson, who worked for Dacorum Borough Council as part of the housing repair team, was called to Jarman Close, in Hemel Hempstead, to help Council plumbers working to fix a burst water main.

He clamped an electric cable thinking it was a domestic water main. The house, built in the 1960s, had a mains water pipe and electricity supply cable which were both of similar size and colour, making them hard to distinguish. The cable ruptured sending a massive current through his body.

The HSE investigation identified that the system of work used to detect the water supply did not involve the use a cable avoidance tool (CAT) to safely detect electric current and avoid, the electricity supply to the house. 

Mr Richardson’s workmate said they had been shown how to use a CAT during ’20 or 30 minutes’ as part of a training course in 1998, but they had never achieved competence in its use.

HSE Inspector, Trevor Morrow, said:

"The CAT is a sophisticated piece of equipment. You won't learn to use it competently during 20 to 30 minutes on a training course, but you will with regular use and experience.

"The CAT they were trained on was a different model to the one that was kept at Dacorum Borough Council, so they would have had to be trained again. If it had been available as part of their normal excavation work and they had been competent in its use, then the CAT would have prevented this fatality.

“I hope this tragic incident makes it clear to employers that they need to take positive steps to risk assess the obvious hazards involved with underground work, such as electricity and gas, and to manage them.  They must ensure that staff are properly trained in the use of detection equipment, such as a CAT, and are aware of the potential risks involved in this type of work.”

Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work.

Regulation 3(1) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 states “Every work activity, including operation, use and maintenance of a system and work near a system, shall be carried out in such a manner as not to give rise, so far as is reasonably practicable, to danger.”

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