UKPN maintains the power distribution supplies to London, the South East and East of England. Dr James Kew was running on land in Saffron Walden, Essex, when he came into contact with a high-voltage cable, which was straddling a well-used footpath. It should have been 5.5 metres above ground-level but was only 1.5 metres at its lowest point.
The HSE found during their investigations that on 24 July 2012 an insulator on a pole-mounted, overhead high voltage power line had failed. This in turn had resulted in a conductor falling to 1.5 metres above a cornfield. The conductor was still connected to the power supply, energised at 11KV and was left suspended across the public footpath.
UKPN was made aware of the situation and spoke with the members of the public who had reported it. UKPN could have immediately “de-energised” that part of the network, but instead sent a technician to the scene. Dr Kew ran into the live conductor and was electrocuted whilst the technician was en-route.
The HSE investigation concluded that UKPN had not fully assessed the risk posed to members of the public, nor had it immediately de-energised the power line and controlled the risk.
On 26 January 2016, UKPN, was fined £1million at Chelmsford Crown Court, and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £153,459 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The HSE Principal Inspector Paul Carter said: “Distribution network operators have an absolute duty to ensure that they do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of members of the public who may be put at risk by the operation of their undertakings. The risk posed by high voltage conductors which descend below the safe statutory height is entirely foreseeable and network operators must have robust procedures in place that facilitate dynamic risk assessment and the immediate implementation of effective risk control measures to protect the public.”
Whilst substantial, the fine may well have been even more severe had it been decided only a few days later when the new sentencing guidelines were introduced.