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Two firms fined over 'life changing' burns to electricity workers

16 April 2015

A specialist technology company and an electrical services firm were fined after two workers suffered serious burns when working on a live electricity distribution board.

The two men, who both worked for C&F Electrical Services Ltd were permanently disfigured while working at Raytheon Systems Limited’s Glenrothes plant, when a capacitor from the distribution board fell onto a live conductor causing a ‘flashover’ that severely injured the pair.

Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard that on 5 December 2011, the two C&F employees were on site to carry out replacement work on a T3 distribution board. The two men were replacing two capacitors 12 centimetres above live conductors housed within the distribution board, known as busbars. These allow electricity to flow through the distribution board.

The Health and Safety Executive investigation found that one of the men, who was standing on a stepladder, lifted the front edge of the capacitor while his colleague, who was standing on the floor, attempted to push the board underneath. However, the capacitor is believed to have slipped backwards into the bay, with its metal casing coming into contact with the top of the live vertical risers on the right hand side.

That contact created a short circuit and electrical arcs between the live busbars and the earthed metalwork of the distribution board itself. The two men were severely burned on the face, neck and arms by the flashover.

An electrical flashover is characterised by very bright light, loud noise and exceedingly high temperatures sufficient to vaporise the metal of the live conductor.

Raytheon Systems Limited, which is registered at Harlow, Essex was fined £24,000 after pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 14 of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. C&F Electrical Services Limited of Poplar Road, Glenrothes, Fife was fined £20,000 for admitting a breach of the same Regulation.

Health and Safety Executive inspector, Kerry Cringan, who investigated the case said: "The failure by both C&F Electrical Services and Raytheon Systems to plan the work on the electrical distribution switchgear has resulted in two employees suffering life changing injuries from an electrical flashover.

"Live work should only be undertaken if it is unreasonable to make the conductors dead and suitable precautions are taken to prevent injury. In this case, it was reasonable to undertake the work while the distribution board was switched off which would have reduced the risks so far as was reasonably practicable and prevented the accident.”