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10th June 2019

Sign Installer Fined £35K After Cable Strike

Health and Safety Service Strike

What’s Happened?

The potentially simple task of installing a hotel sign has ended in disaster for one worker. He suffered severe burns and his employer has received a substantial fine as a result. How did this happen and what mistakes were made?

The Accident

An Employee was sent to install a sign at the entrance of a hotel in Rotherham. In the process of using a breaker to excavate holes for the posts he accidentally struck an underground electricity cable, sustaining substantial burns to his face and arms.

The HSE were informed of the incident and subsequently visited site to undertake an investigation. Inspectors discovered that the sign company had not made any effort to determine the location of pipes and cables, (e.g. by using a cable locator or diagram,) as would normally be expected in preparation for work which could unearth underground services. Furthermore, the employee had not even been trained to use the breaker tool.

The general rule is that electricity cables should be buried at least 500mm beneath the ground surface. However, this should not be assumed to be the case – and they may in fact be lurking just under the surface. If you’re excavating, drilling or piling etc., always follow safe methods to minimise the risk of shock.

What Should They Have Done?

It’s prudent to try a number of strategies to work out where pipes and cables might be.

In this case the sign company should have:

  • asked the hotel manager if pipes or cables were likely to be present
  • reviewed the site to see if there were indicators such as lampposts or inspection pit covers in the vicinity
  • obtained services plans from the hotel and from utility providers; and
  • always used service detection equipment prior to starting work.
  • ensured that staff are appropriately trained on the equipment they are required to use – in this case both the cable detection and breaker.


Given that cable strikes can be fatal, the accident was treated very seriously in court. The sign company pleaded guilty and was fined £35,000 plus costs for breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Managing the Risk

If your staff are involved in any work which could result in a services strike, it’s in your interests to put some effort into prevention. There’s not only the risk of injury to contend with, but these mistakes can be extremely expensive.

The errors began in the planning stages when the contractor should have made sure there were services plans and taken other steps to identify cables. If your workers are at similar risk, develop a method statement and supervise to ensure it is followed. Cable detection equipment must be used in these circumstances.

If you need help with any aspects of Health & Safety for your business, contact us through the website or call us on 0845 459 1724.


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