Hatton Traffic Management Limited (HTM) were cleared of charges under s2(1) Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 3 Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 following the deaths of two employees engaged in resurfacing work on the A66 road in County Durham. Both workers were electrocuted when a mobile tower light came into contact with 20,000 volt overhead power cables.

HTM was a specialist sub contractor, engaged by Cloas Limited, a contractor employed by a Highways Agency agent to oversee the works.

The presiding Judge concluded that both workers had died after moving the tower light from one end of a cross over to another without being lowered and hitched. The workers simply pushed the tower light fully extended, hitting 7.5 meter overhead power cables, the resulting shock instantly killing both men.

HTM was acquitted on the basis that it had taken all reasonably practicable steps to ensure safety of the deceased, by way of full training, and warnings on site. Earlier, the Court of Appeal had dismissed the HSE’s case that foreseeability played no part in the MHSWR offence.

On the day in question, however, the request to move the tower light came from Cloas, and the judge found that there was a “grave lacuna” in Cloas’ planning of the works and carrying out of the task. Whilst the danger of high plant had been recognised, the risk from tower lights had not.

Cloas was fined £90k plus £24k costs.

HTM’s solicitor called the decision to prosecute his client “misconceived.” The reality, however, is that instances of successful defences on grounds of reasonable practicability are rare.