On the 6th June 2018, George Jones, the owner of a scrap metal business in Pembrokeshire was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison after a worker nearly died from an electric shock.
On 12th March 2014, George Jones instructed an employee to plug a tyre stripping machine into a wall socket. As the employee was operating the tyre stripper, the machine suddenly cut out. When he reached for the socket to unplug the machine, he was thrown 2 m across the workshop by a powerful electric shock. The employee was left “disorientated” and with chest pains. He was rushed to Withybush Hospital however, since the incident, he has been unable to return to work and has needed extensive physiotherapy.
Investigating inspectors found the electrical installation was unsafe and more suited to a domestic rather than commercial premises. The socket was in poor condition with exposed wires. Also, the roof had holes in it and there was evidence of rainwater running down the internal walls and forming pools on the floor. George Jones had been operating the Carew Cars unit with an old domestic distribution board using Bakelite components. The prosecutor added that there was “a risk of individuals receiving potentially fatal electric shocks”.
An inspector from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had tried to visit the building on 1 April 2014 but found a forklift truck had been parked across the entrance and staff said they could not move it.
When inspectors returned the next day and accessed the building, they found the socket feeding the tyre stripping machine had been replaced. They also found that the building was being powered by a 13amp extension cable from a neighbouring unit. The HSE later found that the domestic distribution board had also been changed. The HSE served improvement notices on the building, which were complied with. However, Jones failed to respond to the regulator’s calls and emails and did not attend appointments. He also failed to submit any evidence in writing as requested.
Jones pleaded guilty to breaching section 4 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Judge Paul Thomas said the fact that Jones had taken steps to disguise the situation from the inspectors was an aggravating factor in the case. The judge said the starting point for the sentencing was 24 weeks in prison, but this was reduced after he gave the defendant a 25% discount for his guilty plea.
This case highlights the importance of regular proactive maintenance and inspection of work equipment and the fixed electrical installation. Electrical installations and electrical equipment should be tested by a competent person often enough that there is little chance of deterioration leading to danger. Any part of an installation that has become obviously defective between tests should be de-energised until the fault can be fixed. Electrical equipment should be visually checked to spot early signs of damage or deterioration. Electrical equipment used in a harsh environment should be tested more frequently than equipment that is less likely to become damaged or unsafe.
Southalls can offer guidance on the frequency of electrical installation inspections and frequency of portable appliance testing specific to your industry.