Tragic News Stories hit the Headlines

Dr Jeremy Hodge, Chief Executive of the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) urges installers and contractors to take heed from two tragic news stories that recently hit the national press.

Dr Jeremy Hodge, Chief Executive of the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) urges installers and contractors to take heed from two tragic news stories that recently hit the national press.
Unfortunately both stories are linked through the common factor of tragic deaths. The first was the report of two horses being electrocuted at Newbury racecourse. The second concerned the death of a man at work which has led to the first corporate manslaughter conviction in the UK. Both of these events should act as a warning to individuals and companies working in the electrical sector.

The post-mortem examination of two horses that collapsed and died in the paddock at Newbury racecourse confirmed that both were the victims of accidental electrocution. The British Horseracing Authority announced on 17th February 2011 that there was leakage of electricity from a cable under the parade ring in the area where the incident occurred. This cable has now been removed and disconnected although further investigations to establish the cause of the electrical leakage continue.

This may have been a tragic accident, but it highlights the importance of an electrician’s responsibility of recording the location of electric cables they have installed and being aware of their use. This particular cable may have been old and no longer in use, but it was live and the consequences have been deadly. Ultimate responsibility in cases like this may be complex to unravel, but electricians can help defend their interests by making good records and communicating these to customers.

In April 2008, new laws oncorporate manslaughter came into force. The offence of ‘corporate manslaughter’ allows organisations to be prosecuted for management failures that lead to the deaths of employees and others. Gross failures in the management of health and safety, causing death, are liable to prosecution as corporate manslaughter. 
The first corporate manslaughter conviction was announced on 17th February 2011. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd was convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 in relation to the death of an employee and fined £385,000.

This tragic accident was not due to an electrical fault. However, the same legislative implications would apply to an electrical contractor who, for example, purchased faulty cable or provided an unsafe installation which then electrocuted an installer or member of the public. What is important is that the new Corporate Manslaughter offence has now been enforced. Offending organisations would also potentially fall foul of The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. If successfully convicted, large profitable organisations could expect fines well above the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s £500,000 starting point, as well as risking the imprisonment of Directors.
To help safeguard against the risk of installing cable which is substandard, contractors should ensure that the cable supplied by the distributor is the correctly specified cable and check the markings on the cable and on the packaging.

When assessing cable markings look in particular for a recognisable or known manufacturer’s identification, so if there is a problem it will be possible to trace the cable back through the supply chain. Without a manufacturer’s stamp it is nearly impossible to trace the cable, therefore never accept cable with no markings. For peace of mind, you should also insist on an independent third-party approved cable such as BASEC or HAR marked. It is also important to specify on your order the relevant standard number the cable should conform to.

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