Contractor fined over worker’s jet of fire burns

A sub-contractor from Highley has been fined for safety breaches after a worker was burned by a ‘jet of fire’ when he hit an underground electricity cable with a steel pin while replacing pavement edging in Birmingham.

The worker, 38, from Bridgnorth, who does not want to be named, escaped with minor burns to his arms and eyebrows and had his clothing singed when the 415 volt cable sent a ‘jet of fire’ up the steel pin.

An investigation into the incident that took place on 16 August 2011 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Ricky Paul James, 46, the subcontractor responsible for the work, had incorrectly indentified the location of the live cable.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard today (17 January) that Mr James had been subcontracted to undertake the work and provided with information stating there were buried utility services on-site. Mr James was responsible for scanning the pavement with a specialist tool to identify their location before work started.

After wrongly marking where the cable lay, he instructed one of his operatives to carry out the edging work. When the worker wrapped a piece of nylon around the steel pin it made contact with the 415 volt underground live cable and an explosion ‘like a roman candle’ occurred.

Ricky Paul James of Highley, Shropshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 25 (1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. He was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay costs of £4,727.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Paul Thompson said:

“The worker is very lucky to be alive. It is only because he was able to quickly jump back from the blast and extinguish the fire that he wasn’t electrocuted. As he struck the pin it caused a ‘Roman Candle’ effect of fire and sparks to erupt from the ground, sending a jet of fire up from the pin.

“It is of vital importance that any buried services present on a construction site are located with diagrams. Their location must be marked and their presence made known to any operative who may work nearby”.

“There are a number of ways of conducting similar work which avoids using steel pins to penetrate the ground.”

This where Technics Group can help you – we are experts in the location, positioning and identification of buried pipes and cables.

Using a variety of equipment and radio frequency and radar methodologies according to Client specifications and required project outcomes, We can provide:-

  • 2D plans to any scale
  • 3D models of the site and the utilities
  • CAD drawings linked to GIS databases
  • Desktop analysis of Statutory Authority plans
  • Stat plan verification surveys
  • Cable/pipe route clearance surveys

To discuss your requirements, please call our Project Management Team on 01483 230 080

For further information on buried services, see the HSE’s Publication ‘HSG47: Avoiding danger from underground services‘ available free from the HSE’s website.

The Survey Association (TSA) also publish The Essential Guide to Utility Surveys the best practice guide on utility surveys for developers and survey practitioners and you can download it for free. Developed in association with member companies (including Technics Group) the HSE, RICS and the ICES, is a must read for anyone in the industry. The TSA video stars our Managing Director and TSA President – Graham Mills.