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Wed August 05 2020

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Balfour Beatty fined £350k for Thameslink electrocution

11 Sep 14 Balfour Beatty Rail Projects Ltd has been fined £350,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000 after a worker was severely burned by a live powerline contact on the Thameslink project.

The rail worker suffered serious burns after coming into contact with 25000V overhead lines near Cricklewood in 2011. Balfour Beatty Rail Projects was prosecuted by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and found guilty of breaching health and safety law.

On 27 March 2011, rail workers subcontracted by Balfour Beatty as part of the Thameslink project, were installing high voltage cable next to overhead lines near Cricklewood in northwest London. They were working at height on access platforms, moving along the track and installing the cable alongside an existing overhead wire. One of the high voltage overhead lines that crossed the site had not been isolated, unbeknownst to those working on the site. As a worker checked the distance between the newly installed cable and overhead wire, he made contact with the live wire and suffered 45% burns which required extensive skin graft surgery.

An extensive ORR investigation found that Balfour Beatty had failed to plan the work properly, and had not provided sufficient instruction to workers. Harrow Crown Court heard there was poor communication between the planning and construction teams, which meant Balfour Beatty did not request that Network Rail switch off the electric current from all relevant sections of the overhead wire. Balfour Beatty had pleaded not guilty to charges brought in connection with the incident, but changed their plea to guilty after the fifth day of ORR's evidence.

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ORR director of railway safety Ian Prosser said: “Balfour Beatty has a responsibility to protect its employees and sub-contractors from coming to harm. In this instance, an unacceptable management failure led to a rail worker suffering severe burns after coming into contact with the live overhead wire carrying 25000 volts, which could, and should have been switched off.

“ORR's investigation revealed that Balfour Beatty's arrangements fell well short of the standard expected for a construction company operating in a high risk environment. A lack of planning, a failure to establish a safe system of work, poor communication and training all contributed to this incident, which could very easily have resulted in a fatality.”

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