Balfour Beatty fined £350,000 for causing rail worker electric shock

9 September 2014

Balfour Beatty Rail Projects Ltd has today been fined £350,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000 following a prosecution by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). The company has been found guilty of breaching health and safety law, and causing a rail worker to suffer serious burns after coming into contact with the 25000 volt overhead lines near Cricklewood in March 2011.

On 27 March 2011, rail workers subcontracted by Balfour Beatty as part of the Thameslink project, were installing high voltage cable next to overhead lines near Cricklewood in North West London. They were working at height on cherry-pickers, moving along the track and installing the cable alongside an existing overhead wire. One of the high voltage overhead lines which crossed the site had not been isolated. Those working on the site were unaware of this and the risk to their safety. As a worker checked the distance between the newly installed cable and overhead wire, he made contact with the live wire and suffered 45% burns which required extensive skin graft surgery.

Today's sentencing at Harrow Crown Court follows an extensive ORR investigation which found Balfour Beatty had failed to properly plan the work, and had not provided sufficient instructions to workers or appropriate warning about the risk to their lives. The court heard there was poor communication between the planning and construction teams, 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 charges brought in connection with the incident, but changed their 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.
Rail worker safety is a top priority for the regulator. After recently approving £250 million of funding for improvements in electrical and worker safety, our inspectors are out on the network – scrutinising the behaviour of rail and construction companies such as Balfour Beatty – to ensure safety is not compromised.

Notes to editors

  1. The Office of Rail Regulation is the independent safety and economic regulator for Great Britain's railways.
  2. Follow the Office of Rail Regulation on Twitter @railregulation
  3. The regulator has approved dedicated funding for the next five years to improve the safety and performance of Britain's railways. More than £250m has been allocated for better track worker protection and £100m made available to close level crossings.
  4. ORR prosecuted Balfour Beatty Rail Projects Ltd for an offence which breached Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This offence results from the company's failure to protect persons not in their employment being exposed to risks to their health and safety.