Excavator strikes live cable and endangers construction workers


One of the key issues for any building safety expert is to ensure that existing services on site have been recorded and mapped, and that workers are made aware of them in detail. This case demonstrates what can happen if the process is not carefully observed, throughout the project.

An electric substation had just been constructed at the site of chemical manufacturer Campact Ltd, in Hexham. Campact is a subsidiary of the firm Egger (UK) Ltd, itself part of a giant multinational wood products group. Egger appointed local firm Northern Construction Solutions as subcontractor for groundworks and civil engineering works, which included putting in drainage on-site.

On 19th March 2013, two workers were instructed by Northern Construction Solutions to dig out an area close to the substation. In the course of doing this excavation, a digger bucket struck a live 20kV cable underground.

Who was at fault?

As the client and principal contractor on this work, Egger had to supply a services diagram, which they did: but it was out of date and did not take into account the connections of the new substation, which involved the re-routing of the cable network.

As the responsible contractor, Northern Constructions Solutions knew that there had been recent changes but they accepted the inaccurate data and passed it to their workers.
So the key issues were:

  1. Failure to plan or control the works
  2. No updating of the information
  3. Electrical services were not isolated
  4. Inaccurate information provided to frontline workforce

Thus both firms failed in their duty of care towards the employees and did not abide by their construction health and safety responsibilities.

Any strike of this kind, especially on high-voltage cables, can be deadly. Luckily in this incident nobody was hurt: but of course the seriousness of the breach of regulations resulted in an HSE investigation.

Newcastle Magistrates’ Court fined Egger (UK) Ltd £8,000 and an additional £579 in costs for a breach of regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (which deals with the responsibilities of the principal contractor to plan, manage and monitor construction): while Northern Construction Solutions Ltd was fined £4,000 and £762 of costs under regulation 13(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (which covers the general obligations on a contractor to carry out building work in safety).

Those who wish to refresh their health and safety knowledge in the light of this case can visit the HSE’s pages here.

In order to ensure that you do not fall foul of the law or endanger your workforce due to lapses of building safety like this, you can use the services of specialist construction safety consultants, McCormack Benson Health & Safety. Their services are reasonably priced, and they go way beyond mere form filling – they can genuinely save a project money by making it more efficient, while avoiding dangerous and costly safety lapses due to failures like this one.