Death of man electrocuted by hedge trimmer ‘could have been prevented’

David Anderson, from St Andrews, Fife, was electrocuted while working at a property on October 14.

Death of man electrocuted by hedge trimmer ‘could have been prevented’ LDRS
FAI: Death of gardener who was electrocuted while using hedge trimmer could have been prevented.

A man who was killed while using a hedge trimmer may have survived if a risk assessment had been carried out on the area he was working in, a sheriff has ruled.

David Anderson, 59, from St Andrews, Fife, was electrocuted while working at a property in Dunino on October 14 and was pronounced dead a short time later.

Mr Anderson, a self-employed landscape gardener, had arrived at the privately-owned property to carry out work on beech hedges in the garden along with his son Stuart – the third such time he had done such a task.

However, neither Mr Anderson nor his son considered that an electrical power line running above part of the hedge – approximately five-and-a-half metres above ground level – would pose a problem. 

A subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Mr Anderson had been standing on the fourth rung of an aluminium ladder when the cutting end of the hedge trimmer either made contact with the overhead electric lines or came sufficiently close for the electricity to arc from the 11,000 volt overhead lines onto the cutting head of the trimmer, then travel to ground through Mr Anderson and the ladder. 

Following a fatal accident inquiry at Dunfermline, Summary Sheriff Alison Michie noted that HSE guidance notes on working under power lines recommended that where it was impossible to switch the power off that an exclusion zone be established, with a minimum distance of three metres for the voltage that was under consideration. 

“The familiarity of the work he was doing may have led Mr Anderson to overlook the danger from the power lines,” she concluded. 

“While Mr Anderson would not have had the benefit of knowing the measurements of the ladder, hedge cutter and height of the power lines, had a risk assessment been conducted in advance of starting work it may have alerted Mr Anderson to the combined height of his ladder and the extended hedge cutter and the proximity to the overhead lines.

“Had that risk been identified it should have led Mr Anderson to identify an exclusion zone in the area beneath the overhead lines. 

“Identifying an exclusion zone in advance of starting work serves as a reminder of the danger and protects against momentary lapses in concentration while focussed on the work.

“This may also have led Mr Anderson to decide to carry out the hedge cutting in the area beneath the power lines in a different way.”

The inquiry had been told that Mr Anderson and his son had decided to split up and cut the hedge from different sides. 

However, the former was discovered unresponsive by his son at approximately 12.20pm and, despite CPR being performed until paramedics arrived, he was pronounced dead at 1.04pm.

The HSE concluded that, in preparing to come down from the ladder and move to another part of the hedge, Mr Anderson appeared to have brought the cutter back towards his body and lifted it simultaneously, causing it to come into contact with the power lines.

Sheriff Michie closed the inquiry by offering her sincere condolences to Mr Anderson’s family for their loss.