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Construction firm fined £30k for exposing workers to electrocution risk

Construction firm fined £30k for exposing workers to electrocution risk

Friday 16 April 2021

Construction firm fined £30k for exposing workers to electrocution risk


A construction company has been fined £30,000 for exposing workers to a risk of electrocution as it conducted work near a live 415-volt mains electricity cable.

GMK Construction Limited, who had admitted breaching the health and safety law, has also been ordered to pay £5,000 towards the prosecution costs.

The incident took place in May 2020 whilst the company was replacing a shopfront at Halkett Place-based Animal Kingdom.

Pictured: The incident took place whilst the company was replacing a shopfront at Halkett Place-based Animal Kingdom.

Summing up the facts for the prosecution, the Attorney General, Mark Temple, said that two weeks before the work started, the company had spoken with a Planning Construction Engineer from the Jersey Electricity Company about how to work around a live 415-volt mains electricity cable, which ran from the road directly beneath the shop window into the shop.   

The engineer said the excavation could take place with hand tools only to allow the exact location of the cable to be identified, at which point JEC would then either disconnect or move the cable.

On 7 May, the same engineer drove past the site and saw that work had already started. A self-employed steel fixer had been installing steel rods near the cable and had moved the meter attached to the electrical service.

The man said he had asked about the electrical cable he could see in the hole and had been told by Greg Kelly, GMK’s Managing Director, that “someone at the JEC said it was ok to go ahead with the work and I took it for granted that it was not live.”

The JEC engineer stopped the work due to the risk of electric shock, electric burn or fatality.

The Court heard that the cable was paper-insulated, which meant there was a risk of the insulation cracking when the cable was moved and that it was lying on the floor with large steels above it, increasing the risk of it being damaged.

The Attorney General recommended a fine of £60,000, noting that the company was aware of the cable and had not followed the procedure agreed with the JEC.

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Pictured: The Attorney General recommended a £60,000 fine.

Advocate Stephen Wauchope, who was representing the company, said that the incident had resulted from confusion and misunderstanding, adding that Mr Kelly and the JEC engineer had a different recollection of their meeting. He said GMK had not sought advice or guidance about “how to work around a live cable”, but rather on how to proceed under the assumption that the service would be disconnected.

He said it was “unfortunate” the engineer’s important direction that no other work should take place if the cable was excavated hadn’t been recorded and suggested it would be helpful if similar directions were recorded as they would assist the safety of those working in the construction industry.

The lawyer said Mr Kelly, who admitted the health and safety breach at the earliest opportunity, didn’t appreciate he was supposed to ensure the supply was isolated or disconnected, as he was “inexperienced” in these matters and had previously only worked on sites after the supply had been disconnected.

He also said that Mr Kelly didn’t think he was putting anyone at risk by conducting the work the way it was done.

Advocate Wauchope suggested the proposed fine was manifestly excessive, highlighting that the company only had a modest turnover and profitability.

He told Court the company had recently hired two employees which it might not be able to keep on if a fine of £60,000 was imposed. He went on to say that any five-figure fine would sting the company, and instead suggested a sum of £10,000 to £15,000, noting the purpose of a fine was not to “quash or cripple” a company or to put jobs at peril.

Returning the Court’s sentence, the Deputy Bailiff, Robert MacRae, who was sitting with Jurats Jerry Ramsden and Steven Austin-Vautier, agreed with Advocate Wauchope that JEC should provide important advice in writing to avoid any dispute.

They also agreed with the Attorney General’s conclusion that the company’s culpability was high as it failed to comply with “standard industry guidelines”, the advice given by JEC and common sense due to the risk posed by the cable.

He said that while a £60,000 fine would be wholly appropriate in such a case, the Court had considered the company’s means and had settled on a fine of £30,000, to be paid at a rate of £2,000 per month.

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