Two firms based in the North East of England have been fined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after workers were put at risk of electrocution.
Chester-le-Street company Northern Construction Solutions and its Hexham-based counterpart Egger UK were taken to Court by the authority after failings were found in the management of groundworks by inspectors.
Newcastle Magistrates' Court was told that the cable strike took place as work was being undertaken at Egger's site by Northern Construction Solutions.
Staff members were asked to excavate an area in front of a newly built electrical substation in order to install a drainage system that would prevent power outages in the future if there was heavy rain or flooding from nearby rivers.
To complete this task they used a digger, but as the bucket of the vehicle came into contact with the ground after a brief period of excavation, it touched onto a 20 kV underground electrical cable, something with enough power to easily kill any human in close proximity.
Luckily, workers were not electrocuted, despite the metal digger touching the live cable.
The accident was recorded and passed on to the HSE, which sought to discover why staff members of Northern Construction Solutions were allowed to be in such close proximity to dangerous cables.
It was concluded that it was Egger's duty to provide Northern Construction Solutions with information regarding the location of electric cables.
But while Egger gave the contractor an out-of-date diagram without the live wires in place, something that goes against health and safety law, Northern Construction Solutions knew this was the case and did not inform workers.
For its part in the avoidable accident, which the HSE said could have led to multiple deaths, Egger was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £578.90 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
Northern Construction Solutions was also sanctioned and told to pay a combined £4,761.60 in costs and fines after pleading guilty to breaching regulation 13(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
Even though nobody was injured in this case, the HSE has been quick to condemn both companies involved for putting their workers at risk of harm through a lack of record-keeping and poor communication.
HSE Inspector Andrea Robbins said, "Fortunately nobody was hurt in this incident. However, the potential for serious, even fatal, injuries was foreseeable.
"Had both Egger and Northern Construction Solutions adequately planned and managed the risks arising from contact with live underground cables before the excavation work started, e.g. isolation of the services, provision of up-to-date and accurate information on the location of the underground services, then this incident would have most probably been avoided.
"The construction industry needs to be more aware of the dangers of working in the vicinity of live underground services. Appropriate planning and control measures should always be in place."
By Francesca Witney