The partners of a Suffolk based farm have been sentenced after a haulage contractor was electrocuted to death when his vehicle struck an overhead power line.

On 30 August 2016, Mr Christopher Wilson was killed when his tipping trailer was raised and contacted overhead power lines that ran across part of the yard at the Airfield Grain store, in Parham near Framlingham, Suffolk.

The site was managed by Nicholas and Roger Watts, partners of F S Watts & Sons. Mr Wilson was electrocuted and died at the scene.

Investigating, the HSE found that F S Watts & Sons had failed to take suitable precautions for work near to the overhead electric power lines.

Mr Nicholas Watts and Mr Roger Watts each pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 3(1)(a) contrary to regulation 14, of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and each was fined £9,500 and ordered to pay costs of £4,700.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Saffron Turnell said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young father. This death could easily have been prevented if those in control of operations at the grain store had acted to identify and manage the risks involved and put a safe system of work in place.”

What you need to know

Accidental contact with live overhead power lines kills people and causes many serious injuries every year. People are also harmed when a person or object gets too close to a line and a flashover occurs. Work involving high vehicles or long equipment is particularly high risk, such as;

In Agriculture – combines, sprayer booms, materials handlers, tipper vehicles, ladders, irrigation pipes, polytunnels; Remember:

  • going close to a live overhead line can result in a flashover that may kill. Touching a power line is not necessary for danger;
  • voltages lower than 230 volts can kill and injure people;
  • do not mistake overhead power lines on wooden poles for telephone wires; and
  • electricity can bypass wood, plastic or rubber, if it is damp or dirty, and cause fatal shocks. Don’t rely on gloves or rubber boots to protect you.

Lessons to be learned

This tragic accident could so easily have been avoided. The risk from inadvertent contact with overhead power lines should have been recognised, the work activities should have been properly planned and suitable control measures put in place. All these considerations should have been included in the field risk assessment process and dealt with before the work commenced.

Tip 1. Before you conduct your work carry out a field risk assessment of the work area. walk the job and look for hazards that may have an affect on high-level work equipment. This may include power lines, lighting, heating pipes or other services.

Tip 2. If the work presents a risk of coming into contact with high-level electrical services, then check to see if they can be isolated for the duration of the work.

Tip 3. Ensure that you issue a safe system of work to your staff and talk them through it before they start. This is also an ideal opportunity to discuss your field risk assessment.

Above eye level

If your staff intend using work equipment such as extension ladders, elevating platforms, tractors, forklift trucks etc., then ensure that they are instructed to watch out for all high-level services.

For a basic field risk assessment form please click here and download a free copy.  Also, free guidance note GS6 on overhead cables is found at the HSE website.

Failing to identify the presence of overhead electrical power cables cost one father his life. A risk assessment will not satisfy the law unless all such significant hazards have been identified and managed.