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Balfour Beatty fined £350,000 after worker suffers electric shock

Balfour Beatty Rail has admitted breaching health and safety law after a rail worker touched a section of overhead line that was not isolated properly and suffered serious burns.

The company has been fined £350,000, and ordered to pay costs of £50,000.

The incident occurred in 2011 near Cricklewood, north London, when the worker checked the distance between a newly installed cable and overhead wire, at which point he made contact with the live wire – which hadn’t been isolated – and suffered 45% burns requiring extensive skin graft surgery.

Following an ORR investigation, Harrow Crown Court heard that there was poor communication between the planning and construction teams working on this section of the Thameslink project, 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 the charges brought in connection with the incident, but changed its plea to guilty after the fifth day of ORR’s evidence.

Ian Prosser, ORR's director of railway safety, 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.”

A Balfour Beatty spokeswoman said the firm acknowledges that the planning of the works on the night in question was “inadequate”.

She said: “We reiterate that in all other respects we did follow all applicable isolation and track possession procedures, gave all required safety briefings and employed qualified and experienced workers to undertake this work. The judge accepted there were no systemic failures in this case but that it was the unfortunate result of an isolated failure in our planning process.”

Balfour Beatty added that it had initially defended the charges brought by the ORR on the basis of the evidence gathered by its own investigation panel, which included an independently recognised railway expert. However, following new evidence presented during the trial and as a responsible company, it elected to change our plea to guilty.

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