Electricity North West fined £900k after worker’s fatal fall from electricity pole

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The utility firm that owns, operates and maintains the electricity distribution network in the north west of England has been fined £900,000 after one of its employees died when he fell six metres from a ladder.

John Flowers, a 63-year-old experienced linesman employed by Electricity North West Limited, had climbed a ladder resting against a wooden pole to trim ivy away from overhead power lines when the incident happened in November 2013. Preston Crown Court heard it is thought Mr Flowers accidentally cut through his work positioning strap, causing him to fall to his death.

The court was told that Electricity North West had failed to properly plan the work and no provision was made for the use of a mobile elevated work platform to carry out the task. HSE said the task of trimming the ivy off the pole was not identified as short duration work and was not suitable to be undertaken from a ladder. HSE’s investigation found the presence of ivy growing onto the electricity conductors had first been identified about five years before the incident and again in June 2013.

A survey of the vegetation clearance work was undertaken six weeks prior to the incident but none of this information was given to any of the linesmen. The court also heard the linesmen were not provided with any information on how the work was to be carried out.

Following a trial in front of a jury, Electricity North West Limited was found guilty of breaching regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
It was cleared of a charge of failing to carry out a risk assessment and acquitted of a charge of allegedly failing to ensure the health and safety of employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

At the sentencing on 31 March 2017, the company was fined £900,000 for the offence under the Work at Height Regulations and the amount of prosecution costs it will pay will be agreed at a later date.  

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Rose Leese-Weller said: “Electricity North West failed to ensure that working at height was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that was safe. Had these steps been taken we may not have had this tragic outcome.”

In a statement issued after the case, Electricity North West’s chief executive Peter Emery said: “John was a valued colleague with over 30 years’ service to the company. His death was a tragic loss to his family and to his colleagues.  We were devastated by his loss.  

“Working at height with electricity brings unique risk and safety is a continuous challenge. In finding us not guilty on two charges, the jury recognised the effectiveness of our risk assessment process and our compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act through our safe systems of work.”  

He added: “We’ll continue to work hard to make the job John loved as safe as possible.”

In a statement Electricity North West added: “The company was found not guilty of charges relating to failure to risk assess and failure to ensure the safety of its employees. It has been exonerated in respect of its underlying health and safety management but was found guilty of a technical failing to adequately manage work at height.  

“The company are reflecting on today’s sentence and are considering their options, which may include an appeal against the single guilty verdict.”

Electricity North West owns, operates and maintains the north west’s electricity distribution network, connecting 2.4m properties and more than 5m people in the region to the National Grid.


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