Preventable incident could have been fatal

Two North-east companies have been fined almost £15,000 after a worker suffered serious burns and an electric shock while working near overhead power lines.

John Dodsworth, 35, from Gateshead, was employed by James Kennedy as a pump operator and was working with Lumsden & Carroll Construction as they carried out modifications to sewers near Cockfield, County Durham, on 27 February, 2008.

Mr Dodsworth was working in a compound pouring concrete into a mould to cast a sewer chamber lid. The pump had a 12 metre long boom to allow the hose to be positioned where required.

When the pour was finished the operator swung the boom round to return it to a parked position. As he lowered it however, it came into contact with overhead power lines crossing the site, carrying 22,000 volts.

Mr Dodsworth received a serious electric shock, suffering internal and external burns to his hands, head, chest and legs – narrowly escaping death.

After being airlifted to hospital, he underwent several operations, including skin grafts and a sectional skull removal, causing extensive scarring.

The court heard Mr Dodsworth suffers constant pain which may be permanent and at present requires heavy drug medication, preventing his return to work.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that Lumsden & Carroll Construction could have either located the work compound elsewhere, so they did not have to work near the power lines, or used different equipment, not capable of coming into contact with the power lines.

Speaking after the case, HSE inspector Martin Smith said: “Construction plants coming into contact with overhead power lines continues to be a frequent cause of incidents, which are often fatal. Mr Dodsworth is lucky to be alive and will have to live with the after effects of his injuries for the rest of his life.

“If it had been identified that working near the power lines was absolutely essential, Lumsden & Carroll Construction and James Kennedy should have planned the work so that the pump was used sufficiently far from the power lines to prevent the incident and placed physical barriers and warnings at the site to control the work.

“James Kennedy should have made enquiries to ensure that the plant he sent was suitable for the site and that precautions had been taken against well-known risks.”

Lumsden & Carroll Construction pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching health and safety regulations and was fined a total of £5,000 and ordered to pay £3,643.07 costs at Darlington Magistrates’ Court.

James Kennedy, of Richmond Avenue, Washington, pleaded guilty to regulation breaches and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £1,821.53 costs.