£210,000 penalty for Charing Cross groundworks explosion

£210,000 penalty for Charing Cross groundworks explosion

A young worker died after suffering fatal burn injuries in an explosion at a construction site in central London, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Birse Metro Ltd asked a sub-contractor to supply labour for the groundworks operation, but agreed that, as main contractor, it would be responsible for planning and supervising the work.

Ioan Boboc, 22, a construction worker from north-west London, was part of a team of workers who were using breakers and a shovel in an excavation at the corner of Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road on 2 December 2008.

The explosion occurred following damage to an 11,000-volt live cable during the excavation. Mr Boboc suffered burns to more than 60 per cent of his body. The hi-vis vest of one of his colleagues caught fire but he was able to put it out without sustaining any major injury. Mr Boboc was taken to hospital, but died of his injuries a few weeks later, on Christmas Day.

HSE inspector Lisa Chappell told SHP that the company knew there were live cables in the excavation but failed to inform the workers of the hazard. The company didn’t use a cable-avoidance tool and also failed to put in place adequate measures to prevent workers from coming into contact with live cables.

The inspector issued a Prohibition Notice to the firm ordering it to provide some form of physical barrier, which it later did by fitting two rows of paving slabs. The workers were not wearing flame-retardant clothing, although there was some dispute about whether this had been provided.

Birse Metro Ltd, of Redhill, Surrey, pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. The company was fined £167,000 and ordered to pay £43,000 in costs.

Following the hearing on 20 September, Inspector Chappell said: “The dangers associated with live underground cables are well-known to those carrying out groundworks in the construction industry. Clear guidance on avoiding contact with them is freely available to companies undertaking this work.

“This incident highlights the absolute necessity for such work to be properly planned and managed. Operatives should be briefed on the presence of cables and a safe system of working should be robustly enforced. Mr Boboc’s family continues to grieve the loss of a son and brother following an incident that could have easily been prevented.”

In mitigation, the company emphasised that it had good management systems and a permit to dig. However, the inspector said these systems hadn’t worked on this occasion, as several measures to ensure safe operation hadn’t been implemented. She warned other companies carrying out similar groundworks: “Don’t treat them as a tick-box exercise.”

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