Father of three Patrick Rice was fatally electrocuted on 31 May 2021 while operating a tipper lorry at VB Farms LLP’s Littlecombe Farm in Crediton when the accident happened.
Rice was delivering stone to be used to repair farm tracks when the tipper arm of the lorry he was using came into contact with an 11kV overhead power line. He was electrocuted after exiting the vehicle.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that VB Farms LLP had failed to carry out an assessment of how work could be completed safely and did not consider the dangers involved with working near an overhead power line.
VB Farms LLP, of Love Street, Chester, was found guilty of breaching Regulations 3(1) and 4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 following a trial at Exeter Magistrates’ Court. The company was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,715 on 17 August 2023.
HSE inspector James Collins said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident – another sad reminder of the dangers of overhead powerlines. Paddy’s death could easily have been prevented if VB Farms LLP had acted to manage the risks involved and put in place a safe system of work.”
Dangers of overhead power lines
Overhead power lines typically carry electricity at voltages similar to the 11 kV in this case, but can go up to 400 kV. Britain’s workplace regulator was also concerned about a nationwide trend of farm machinery getting bigger, increasing the risk of contact with power lines. Further guidance can be found on the HSE website.
Fatalities and life changing accidents have landed food and drink businesses with hefty fines upwards of £800k in the past year.
In January, wine and drinks supplier Kingsland Drinks Ltd was fined £800k after an HGV driver was killed after being hit by a forklift truck at its Salford depot.
Meanwhile, Kent-based baking firm David Wood Baking Ltd was fined £858k after a worker had his arm amputated after getting caught in an industrial food mixer.