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UNDERGROUND CABLE HIT CAUSED ‘JET OF FIRE’

Contractor fined over ineffective use of cable detection device

A small contractor has been fined for safety breaches after a workman was burned by a ‘jet of fire’ when a steel pin ck an underground electricity cable during pavement works in Birmingham in August 2011. The workman escaped with minor burns to his arms and eyebrows when contact with 415 volt cable sent a ‘jet of fire’ up the steel pin.

Birmingham Magistrates heard (17 January) that Mr Ricky James was contracted 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 cable detection tool to identify location of the cables before work started. However, he incorrectly marked the location and instructed an operative to carry out the edging work.

When the workman 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.

Using steel pins to penetrate the ground could have been avoided

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.”

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