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Balfour Beatty fined following severe burns to rail worker

Balfour Beatty Rail Projects has been fined £350,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000 following a prosecution by the Office of Rail Regulation.

Balfour Beatty has been found guilty of breaching health and safety law, after a rail worker suffered serious burns from overhead lines near Cricklewood in March 2011.

The incident occurred when the worker checked the distance between a newly installed cable and overhead wire, at which point he made contact with the live wire and suffered 45% burns which required extensive skin graft surgery.

An ORR investigation found Balfour Beatty had failed to properly plan the work, and had not provided sufficient instructions to workers or appropriate warning about the risk to their lives.

At the trial at Harrow Crown Court, the court heard there was poor communication between the planning and construction teams, which meant Balfour Beatty did not request that Network Rail switch off the electric current from all relevant sections of the overhead wire.

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Balfour Beatty had initially pleaded not guilty to charges brought in connection with the incident, but changed its plea to guilty after the fifth day of evidence.

Ian Prosser, ORR’s director of railway safety, said: “ORR’s investigation revealed that Balfour Beatty’s arrangements fell well short of the standard expected for a construction company operating in a high risk environment. A lack of planning, a failure to establish a safe system of work, poor communication and training all contributed to this incident, which could very easily have resulted in a fatality.”

“Rail worker safety is a top priority for the regulator. After recently approving £250m of funding for improvements in electrical and worker safety, our inspectors are out on the network – scrutinising the behaviour of rail and construction companies such as Balfour Beatty – to ensure safety is not compromised.”

A Balfour Beatty spokeswoman said the firm acknowledges that the planning of the works on the night in question was “inadequate”.

“We reiterate that in all other respects we did follow all applicable isolation and track possession procedures, gave all required safety briefings and employed qualified and experienced workers to undertake this work. The judge accepted there were no systemic failures in this case but that it was the unfortunate result of an isolated failure in our planning process.

“We initially defended the charges brought by the ORR on the basis of the evidence gathered by our own investigation panel, which included an independently recognised railway expert.  However, following new evidence presented during the trial and as a responsible company, we elected to change our plea to guilty.”

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