Newcastle Magistrates’ Court heard that the cable strike occurred on 19 March 2013 during work being undertaken for Campact Ltd – a subsidiary of products manufacturer Egger at its Hexham site.
The groundworks and civil engineering works were sub-contracted to Northern Construction Solutions Ltd.
On the day of the incident two workers, engaged on behalf of Northern Construction Solutions, were asked to excavate the area in front of a newly-built electric substation for the installation of drainage.
During the work the bucket of an excavator came into contact with a 20kV underground electric cable.
Both workers avoided injury, but it was a serious incident that sparked an HSE investigation.
Inspectors found that Egger was responsible for the provision of a services diagram that included the location of underground electric cables, and was also responsible for keeping it updated.
But the firm failed to update this diagram following the earlier construction of the substation and re-routing of the electric cables.
Consequently Northern Construction Solutions was not provided with up-to-date information regarding the location of the cables.
The court heard that although it was the duty of Egger to provide Northern Construction Solutions with appropriate information regarding the location of electric cables, the contractors equally had a duty to provide workers under their control with the information they needed.
Instead, they accepted the out-of-date services diagram, even though they knew there had been changes made in the area to be excavated.
Egger (UK) Ltd, of Hexham, Northumberland, was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £578.90 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the CDM regulations.
Northern Construction Solutions Ltd, of Chester le Street, Co Durham, was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £761.60 costs after also pleading guilty to a CDM breach.
After the case, HSE Inspector Andrea Robbins said: “Fortunately nobody was hurt in this incident. However, the potential for serious, even fatal, injuries was foreseeable.
“Had both Egger and Northern Construction Solutions adequately planned and managed the risks arising from contact with live underground cables before the excavation work started, e.g. isolation of the services, provision of up-to-date and accurate information on the location of the underground services, then this incident would have most probably been avoided.
“The construction industry needs to be more aware of the dangers of working in the vicinity of live underground services.
“Appropriate planning and control measures should always be in place. A failure to do so could result in inadvertent contact with the live cables, the consequences of which can be fatal.”