Construction worker escapes death from cutting live cable


If a building contractor is going to ask its workers to dig up or break through old services, it is imperative that it checks thoroughly that these have been disconnected before work begins. This is a fundamental requirement for construction safety procedures.

Yet here is a case where the contractor got it wrong, with potentially fatal results.

Listed terrace being demolished

On 2nd August 2013, Vermont Capitol Ltd. was demolishing the end of a line of 1830s Grade-II-listed Regency terraced houses in Shaw Street, Liverpool. Apparently it was unsafe; and only the façade and basement were left intact by the contractor. The scheme was one involving the construction of 60 flats for students in its place.

A young local 22-year-old worker was told to remove old pipes and cables from the basement.

To quote what the HSE Inspector reported after his investigation, “the team on the site had been told all of the utilities entering the site had been disconnected and so the worker had no way of knowing he was actually cutting into a live electricity cable.

Shock from short circuit

He was using an angle grinder. There was a flash as it severed the wires and the resulting shock threw him across the basement. Fortunately he was wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and this saved him from serious injury or burns: he nevertheless was hurt in his shoulder and elbow.

Vermont Capitol Ltd had actually told the site manager that the 240V mains electricity supply had been cut off, when this was not the case. They failed to check that this system had been properly disconnected.

Following an action against Vermont Capitol brought by HSE, at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court the firm entered a plea of guilty, having breached the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. Its fine was £2,000 and it had to pay prosecution costs of £980.

Avoid similar accidents

For a refresher on how to maintain electrical safety on site, go to To quote HSE, “it’s vital that developers take the risks seriously from gas pipes and electricity cables and get written confirmation that supplies have been disconnected before starting work. Otherwise lives will continue to be put at risk.”

McCormack Benson Health & Safety works with contractors to help them make their construction safety standards match up to best practice in the industry, and its time-served, trained building safety consultants will supply practical advice that can avoid dangerous accidents like this one.