South Eastern Electrical found guilty following supermarket lighting incident

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned about the importance of robust and well supervised systems of work when dealing with the isolation of electrical systems after a worker was knocked unconscious by an electric shock in Southend.

South Eastern Electrical, based in Hainault, was fined £50 000 with costs of £20 000 at Basildon Crown Court. The company had been found guilty at an earlier hearing of breaching of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, namely failing to protect those not in its employment.

The prosecution concerned an incident at a supermarket in Southend, Essex, on 23 July 2006. Major refurbishment works were being carried out when the store was closed on a Sunday afternoon. A groundworks subcontractor, from Benfleet, suffered an electric shock after coming into contact with a live cable during replacement of lighting columns in the car park. He was unconscious for a short period and suffered burns and bruising.

HSE inspector Dominic Elliss said: “The risks of working with electricity are well known and this incident could easily have been avoided. Effective identification and isolation of the electrical supply, together with clear instruction and supervision from the very beginning and throughout such work, are essential in preventing such incidents from occurring.

“By failing to implement simple and well documented controls over such work, electrical contractors place not only themselves, but others who may come into contact with their work, at risk of very serious injury.”

The HSE investigation found no circuit diagrams had been available and no attempt had been made by South Eastern Electrical to produce a diagram by surveying each column to identify its point of supply. South Eastern Electrical’s supervisor had pointed out a distribution board to the two electricians undertaking the work as the point of isolation for the lighting columns in the car park. However, it had not been made clear exactly which columns were supplied from this point and no written permit to work system was in place, which would have described exactly which columns had been made safe, how this had been done and by whom.

The first three columns were replaced ahead of time and, as a result, a decision was made to continue with the replacement of a fourth column. Assumptions were made that the supply for this column was also fed from the same distribution board as the previous three and checks found that the supply to it was dead.

This fourth column was in fact supplied via a separate distribution board that had not been isolated and was also controlled by a light sensor. When the electricians had initially tested the supply at the fourth column there had been sufficient daylight to prevent the supply being switched on. However, during the replacement work, the level of light decreased to such an extent that the sensor energized the circuit. The resulting uninsulated ends of the now live cable were grabbed by a groundworker as he attempted to feed them into the new column and he received an electric shock.