Terrible electrical accident on construction site


Electrical accidents are not the most numerous building safety hazards: but when they do happen they can very easily be fatal, and that is why such care needs to be taken to avoid them. This case, where a man was badly injured, emphasises the point.

Ashford Homes (South Western) Ltd. was (in March 2013) the principal contractor on a project to erect a new clubhouse and play area for Trowbridge Rugby Club.

The electricity service company alerted Ashford Homes to the existence of overhead power cables. It also advised the contractor on how to remove the power supplies that crossed the site. However, inexplicably, the firm did nothing in the following key areas:

  • The need to prevent activity involving plant & equipment underneath the overhead lines
  • Diversion or isolation of the existing power supplies

Thus it was that a subcontractor, Lee Burge, (38), was operating a crane on site and was moving steel sections. The hook block of the crane struck an 11kV overhead power line and suffered a severe electric shock. It was so bad that he had to be resuscitated.

Mr. Burge now has long-term memory loss: he is lucky to be alive.

Failure to isolate live cables

The Health & Safety Executive investigators were highly critical of Ashford Homes for their failure to plan and manage the electrical issues. Physical separation from the overhead cables via barriers, or the isolation or diversion of the supplies, was absolutely necessary.

Swindon Crown Court fined Ashford Homes (South Western) Ltd of Melksham the sum of £20,000 in addition to prosecution costs of £5,159, due to its breaching of Regulation 34(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

The HSE inspector (Ian Whittles) commented:

“Work near overhead power lines should be carefully planned and managed so that risks from contact or close proximity to the lines are adequately controlled. Ashford Homes failed to do this, and had been operating a range of machinery capable of coming close to the lines before Mr Burge was seriously injured.”

It should not be necessary for firms to be trained on these points, but for those who want a refresher, there is information available from the HSE at:


Often it is necessary to actually walk the site and inspect the services, and an independent pair of eyes (backed up with real-world construction sector experience) is available from the safety consultants of McCormack Benson Health & Safety. MBHS never forgets that it works for you, the contractor, and that it will look out for your best interests (and those of your employees and subcontractors). This approach can be the difference between running an efficient, safe site: and having an awful accident that risks lives and can lead to prosecution.