Balfour Beatty fined £280,000 after worker electrocuted on Middlesex data centre job

Balfour Beatty has been fined a total of £280,000 after a worker was electrocuted while working on the upgrade of a data centre in Middlesex.

Facilities manager Norland Managed Services was fined £100,000 for its role.

The incident happened at Morgan Stanley’s Heathrow Data Centre in Hounslow, where Balfour Beatty was contracted to carry out multi-million-pound infrastructure upgrade works.

NMS was already contracted to provide mechanical and electrical maintenance and had effective control of the site.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that 27-year-old Martin Walton from Blackhall Colliery, Cleveland, was killed on 16 October 2010.

At the time, new power distribution units were being installed to provide two potential power supply sources to the centre’s data storage equipment.

The existing power supply was under the control of NMS, while the new supply was under the control of Balfour Beatty.

Connection of three of these units was scheduled to take place between 16 and 18 October 2010 but last-minute modifications to the units required them to be tested with two live supplies.

Mr Walton, a cable jointer employed by Integrated Cable Services, was electrocuted when his forehead made contact with the 415 V live terminals of the second unit.

The Health and Safety Executive told the court during the sentencing hearing that underlying cause of the incident was a succession of failures indicative of the complete breakdown of Balfour Beatty’s management of health and safety in relation to this project, particularly the breakdown of communication.

For this, Balfour Beatty admitted breaches of section 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety Work Act and was fined £280,000 plus £42,240 costs.

NMS had no role in the construction project. Its involvement was the management of the project’s impact on the existing operational infrastructure under its control.

NMS issued a permit to Mr Walton, allowing him to reroute the existing site power supply through the new distribution unit, knowing it had the potential to receive a supply from a source not under its control and without confirming that that other supply was isolated.

NMS was found guilty after an earlier trial of breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety Work Act and was fined £100,000 with £106,670 costs.

HSE inspector Loraine Charles said: “Martin Walton’s death, which had a truly devastating effect on his family and friends, was entirely preventable.

“Although Balfour Beatty claimed to have been under pressure from a difficult and demanding client, they cannot be excused for having lost sight of the need for the effective control of risks arising from the work being carried out under their control at this data centre.

“Permit to work systems were operated poorly or not at all.

“Not one person involved in the work at the time of the accident had an accurate overall understanding of the work being carried out and, as a consequence, Martin Walton and others were unknowingly working in the vicinity of exposed live electrical terminals.

“Norland, who were operating an effective permit to work system in relation to the equipment under their own control, made no effort to ensure that the work they permitted did not create risk at the point at which it interacted with equipment under Balfour’s control.”

Balfour Beatty confirmed it had been fined £280,000 by the court.

The company’s statement read: “Balfour Beatty has offered its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Martin Walton who was killed in this tragic incident.

“The safety of the public and our workforce is always our primary concern. Balfour Beatty has since taken appropriate corrective action to take the lessons learnt from this tragic incident and share them and improvements across our business.”

It is the second time in the last 16 months that Balfour Beatty has been fined for breaching health and safety law.

In September last year, Balfour Beatty was fined £350,000 by the Office of Rail Regulation after a rail worker suffered serious burns from overhead lines near Cricklewood in March 2011.