Why do businesses take unnecessary risks with workers lives by failing to ensure work is undertaken by suitably qualified and competent workers? In a recent case prosecuted by the HSE the courts were told that an unqualified employee placed electrical tape over the switch of the circuit breaker to indicate that the circuit should remain isolated.
The electrical supply to the cable was 240 volts and was capable of causing electric shock or electrocution. The court was told that two weeks later a worker in the building moved the cable to carry out some work. When he did this the copper conducting wires touched the wall of the building and an electrical short circuit occurred.
Although no one was injured, Coolcheck Refrigeration Ltd was fined a total of £7,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard that the company had failed to ensure parts of an electrical system were left in a safe condition following work carried out to disconnect a refrigerated counter unit at business premises in Bishop Auckland.
The HSE Inspector on this case commented that this incident could have easily been prevented. It was found that the company employed a number of competent electricians and should have planned the works so that the electrical supply to the equipment was properly isolated by disconnection of wiring at the relevant circuit breaker.
Clearly after any work on an electrical system it should be left in a condition which prevents danger. We have seen examples such as this case around the country when undertaking inspections and risk assessments; often the management have not been aware of the situation. Even when they have, the response is “that an electrician is due in”. The trouble is that it could be too late. We would urge all businesses to carry out routine workplace inspections to check for safety failings and to make sure that employees understand not to work on electrics unless they are suitably qualified. Failure to manage this can lead to electric shock, electrocution or fires and explosions.
The use of electrical tape to effect isolation of the switches on miniature circuit breaker electrical systems is regarded as unsafe practice by the Electrical Safety Council, which warns against it in their guidance to the industry.