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Employers in the docks over electric shocks

In January 2016, a Walsall firm of subcontractors was fined £35,000 plus £25,000 in court fees after one of its workers suffered life changing injuries after an electric shock while working on a new solar farm*.  The worker was electrocuted by a 33,000 volt cable and suffered a serious brain injury which has left him with mobility problems and has prevented him from working again.

His employer admitted a single charge of failing to plan, manage and monitor construction work adequately.

With pressure across the whole of the construction sector to complete projects in reduced time periods*, it’s vital proper care and attention is given to the planning and risk management of electrical work, however large or small.

The law states clearly that employers and employees must take precautions against the risk of death or injury from electricity. According to the HSE, refurbishment work in buildings presents the greatest risk and must be planned, managed and monitored to ensure that workers are not exposed to risks from electricity.

Any work near electric overhead power lines must be carefully planned and carried out to avoid danger from accidental contact or close proximity to the lines.  Also damage to underground electrical cables can cause fatal or severe injury so contractors must take precautions to avoid danger. Domestic work requires equally as much care and attention to protect contractors, homeowners and tenants from the risks of electric shocks.

Precautions include a safe system of work based on planning, conveyance of plans, toolbox talks to discuss risk assessments and methods statements, plus cable locating devices and safe digging practices.

Permits to Work

A 'permit to work' is a formal, written, safe system of work to control potentially hazardous activities. The permit details the work to be done and the precautions to be taken. Before any work is undertaken a permit should be issued, checked and signed off as being completed by someone competent to do so, and who is not involved in undertaking the work.  This could be the site manager or main contractor who is qualified and competent.


Where maintenance requires that normal guarding is removed, or access is required inside existing guarding, then additional measures are needed to prevent danger from the risk of electric shock.

There should be clear company rules on what isolation procedures are required, and in what circumstances.  The HSE states that the basic rule is that there should be isolation from the power source, the isolator should be locked in position (for example by a padlock), and a sign should be used to indicate that maintenance work is in progress.

A claim managed by ECIC in the past year demonstrates the ramifications of incorrect isolation procedures.  A contractor working in a hospital isolated the area in which he was working but failed to note the adjacent area was still live.  A metal object struck the electrics causing an entire wing of a hospital to lose power including the operating theatres.

Isolation requires use of devices that are specifically designed for this purpose; not devices such as key-lockable emergency stops or other types of switches that may be fitted to the machine. Any stored energy (hydraulic or pneumatic power, for instance) should also be dissipated before the work starts.

If more than one maintenance worker is involved in the work, each of them should lock off the power with their own padlock. Multi-padlock hasps can be used in such circumstances. Such isolation procedures can also be applied to locking off valves for services (such as steam) and material supplies.

Before entering or working on the equipment, it is essential that the effectiveness of the isolation is verified by a suitably competent person.






ECIC media contacts

For further information please contact the ECIC Press Office at HSL:  Alison Reeson/Clare Watson.  0208 977 9132.

ECIC has a Best's Credit Rating of A- effective as of September 2016. For the latest rating, access               


EC Insurance Company Limited (ECIC) is part of the Markel group.  Markel Corporation is the ultimate holding company for ECIC and Markel International Insurance Company Limited. EC Insurance Company Limited (ECIC) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority. (Financial Services Register No.: 202123). Registered Office: 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3AZ. Company Number: 01266206. Markel International Insurance Company Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority (Financial Services Register No.: 202570). Registered Office: 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3AZ. Company Number: 00966670. Please note that telephone calls may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.

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