Could you afford a £500,000 fine?

A construction company has been handed fines of more than half a million pounds after one of its tipper vehicles came into contact with overhead power lines back in 2016.

The background

Mick George Ltd – an East Anglia and East Midlands-based construction firm – was working on a site in Northampton to construct a waste transfer station.

Before they started work at the site they identified the need for Permanent Protection Structures (goalposts, essentially) to keep the overhead power lines out of the way. However, due to an initial delay, they ended up installing just one goalpost.

What happened?

A construction worker on the site was unloading a mound of soil from his tipper and, to get rid of the final remains from his vehicle, edged forward with the body of the tipper raised. In doing so though, he came close to touching the 33KV overhead power line.

Fortunately, the worker came away from the incident unscathed and the tipper vehicle only incurred minor damages, but it was an uncomfortably close encounter to what could have been a catastrophic accident.

The fine

During prosecution, Mick George Ltd pleaded guilty to falling foul of Regulation 25(3) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. As a result, they were given a fine of £566,670 and ordered to pay £9,000’s worth of costs.

What did the HSE say?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded that Mick George Ltd didn’t assess the risk overhead power lines posed carefully enough, and that their safe systems of work fell short of what was needed to reduce the risk of tipper vehicles striking an overhead power line.

Stuart Parry, a HSE inspector, said: “Every year in the UK, two people are killed and many more injured when mechanical plant and machinery comes into contact or close proximity to OPL’s. This was a very serious incident and it is fortunate nobody was injured as a result.

“A suitable and sufficient assessment would have identified the need to contact the Distribution Network Operator, Western Power, to request the OPL’s were diverted underground prior to the commencement of construction. If this was not reasonably practicable, Mick George Ltd should have erected goalposts either side of the OPL’s to warn drivers about the OPL’s.”

Lessons to be learned

Lee Mockridge, Health & Safety Development Manager at Citation, said: “This is a prime example of the huge amount of considerations that must be made before and during any activity, particularly in the construction industry.

“Despite the worker being lucky enough to walk away unharmed, the distinct lack of suitable risk assessments, which would have highlighted such hazards proactively, is alarming to say the least.

“Whichever approach a company decides to take with regards to their operation and Health & Safety culture, the basics have to be adhered to and in this case they have been ignored or, at the very least, not completed by someone competent enough or focused enough on the potential outcomes of getting it wrong.”

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