An electrician was set on fire during an explosion while using a metal spanner to repair an electrical fault at discount retailer B&M’s warehouse in Liverpool.
What happened to the electrician
On 22 September 2018, a workman was repairing an electrical fault when the tool he was using came into contact with a live busbar (metallic strip) linked to the power distribution and caused an electrical explosion.
The 35-year-old was left needing skin grafts and surgery to save one of his hands after a ‘Catherine wheel of fire spiralled through the air’, while his body ‘blew up to four times its normal size’, Liverpool Crown Court was told. He was placed in an induced coma for two weeks and was unable to work for five months.
What has been discovered
It was discovered that the victim, who was employed by electrical contracting firm Daker Ltd, had been attempting to connect a generator to B&M’s Low Voltage supply in order to allow B&M to operate some of its core site functions whilst high voltage maintenance was being undertaken.
This work was complex and involved several contractors and required co-ordination of different working parties with specific time limited requirements. There was insufficient planning between parties beforehand including who was in charge of each site, coordination of work and exchange of relevant documentation.
The HSE found B&M failed to appoint a suitably competent person to plan and carry out the work to connect temporary generators to their distribution board at the premises.
Electrical contractors Daker’s work methods fell well below the required standards, said the regulator. Electrical work commenced without proper planning; and the power supply to the circuit was not stopped prior to the incident and live working was allowed to take place, this meant that the power supply could be switched on or off at any point, putting workers at risk of electric shock.
The court case
B&M Retail Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £1 million plus £4,978 in costs.
Daker admitted breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined just £100 as the company is now dormant and only had that amount of money in the bank, the safety watchdog told IOSH magazine.
Life changing electrician injuries
The incident had life-changing consequences on the victim and his family. ‘To me, my arms look like Freddy Kruger’s from Nightmare on Elm Street,’ he said. ‘I now can’t play with my little boys as much as I used to and I’m worried about hurting myself, and they are worried about hurting me. I have paranoia of being touched. I do worry about the future as I know the pain will never go away and might get worse, leaving me unable to work and support my family.’
‘[This incident] could have been avoided if the companies involved had taken the time to appropriately plan and coordinate tasks to ensure the circuit was dead, eliminating the risk of electrocution to workers,’ said HSE inspector Roger Clarke after the case.
‘Working with electricity is a high-risk activity and safety must be a priority.’
Last week’s health and safety article is available here.
An article around competent person is available here.