The Perils of Renovation

An agency worker based in N. London received life-threatening burn injuries in an explosion when he severed a 415-volt electrical cable, unaware it was still live, a court has heard.

The worker hired by a building company, was among a team stripping out a property in Westminster prior to refurbishment. Th worker was stripping out old electrical equipment for refurbishment that he believed had been isolated. As he began removing electrical equipment from the basement of the premises an explosion occurred badly injuring the worker.

The worker suffered severe and extensive burns to his limbs, body and face, was placed in an induced coma in intensive care for two weeks, and in hospital for several more. He still has long-term psychological problems and persistent pain.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and instigated court proceedings against the London based building company for safety failings.

The court heard that the agency worker had started to strip the electrics after he had stopped work on another task to await guidance from the site manager. He believed the equipment was dead – and most of it was.

However a live cable remained which came into the building from the street outside and ended at a cut-off box, from which the rest of the equipment had been isolated by removing fuses. He was using a tool, known as a breaker, to drill and lever the equipment from the wall when he went through the cable.

HSE’s investigation found Dray Building Ltd had failed to provide suitable signage highlighting the live cable, had failed to provide barriers around the work equipment for other suitable safety measures. Had these requirements been met, then the accident could not have happened in the way that it did.

The company’s construction plans stated that services had to be identified and that any assessed as live should be marked accordingly, but that had not happened.

HSE said cable strikes were a well-known risk in the industry, though this is more common with digging work. Contractors should be mindful of electrical risks during construction work, particularly during demolition and refurbishment.

The building company was fined  £10,000 and ordered to pay £9,882 in costs after admitting a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations.

After the case, HSE Inspector Stephron Baker Holmes said:

“It would have been a straightforward matter to provide suitable warning notices and barriers in this case, and it is likely these simple measures would have prevented an incident like this from happening.

“As a result of the company’s failures, however, this man suffered life-changing and initially life-threatening injuries, and the quality of his life remains significantly diminished.

“Controlling the risks at source would have been more effective than relying on assumptions about individuals’ awareness of the risks.”