Scottish painter electrocuted by power line after 'moment's inattention'

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A painter who was killed by an 11,000-volt electric shock when his ladder touched an overhead power line died because of a "moment's inattention", a sheriff has ruled.

Martin Buchan, 37, screamed as smoke came off him before he fell to the ground while working on a property in Errol, Perthshire, last April.

The accident happened on a property in Errol, Perthshire. Picture:  James Denham (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The accident happened on a property in Errol, Perthshire. Picture: James Denham (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Mark Tait, 44, who Mr Buchan had hired to hold the ladder, was only feet away at the time and witnessed the incident.

He said he was holding one end of the 10 metre extendable ladder steady with his foot as Mr Buchan, from Dundee, pushed up the other end when it struck one of the live lines.

He said both he and father-of-one Mr Buchan were aware there were power lines which crossed the garden of the house but might have been distracted because they were talking.

Following a fatal accident inquiry at Perth Sheriff Court, Sheriff William Wood ruled the painter and decorator's death could have been avoided if he had adopted safer working practices.

He said: "From all the evidence that I have heard and considered, it is clear that Mr Buchan’s death as a result of electrocution was caused by no more than a moment’s inattention.

"Clearly, with the benefits of hindsight, it is possible to criticise Mr Buchan.

"Mr Buchan had clearly been aware of the overhead power lines before he started his work but he had failed to appreciate their significance or the fact that, given the length of his ladder, manoeuvring that ladder perpendicular to and between both the power lines and the house might create a potential hazard.

"It is clear that simple steps could and should have been taken by him.

"It would have been a simple thing to do for Mr Buchan, in the absence of any markers or barriers of his own, to have moved the patio furniture to a safe distance in front of the power lines in order to prevent any encroachment under them.

"Indeed, had Mr Buchan and Mr Tait not been chatting during the operation to raise the shortened ladder, he might have noted the proximity of the overhead power lines."

The sheriff also said Mr Buchan could have used alternative equipment to carry out the job and said he hoped other workmen would learn lessons from the tragedy.

He added: "It is clear that Mr Buchan did not use the most appropriate equipment for the work that he was to carry out and, had he used mobile scaffolding or a mobile elevated work platform then the accident that resulted in his death might have been avoided.

"Bearing in mind that the accident was caused by manoeuvring the ladder - rather than its use for the work he was undertaking - the precaution of creating a simple barrier to prevent encroachment of a danger area below and around the overhead power lines would also have prevented the accident.

"While I endorse the view of the Health and Safety Executive that best practice should always entail a consultation of the available guidance on the issue - now widely and easily available through an internet search - I also recognise that not all proprietors of small businesses such as Mr Buchan will take the time and trouble to do that.

"Clearly, it is to be hoped that, as a result of this inquiry, more will do so in the future in order to prevent avoidable tragedy."

Mr Tait said he had been traumatised by what had happened and suffered flashbacks of the accident on April 2 last year.

Describing the incident, he said: "I didn't realise I was right underneath them. Maybe because we were talking.

"It was him screaming. It was enough to alert me not to touch the ladder. I looked up at him and saw the smoke coming off him. I felt tingling coming up my legs, I took my foot off and kicked it.

"I had rubber-soled, steel toecapped boots. Martin fell one way and the ladder fell the other way."

The inquiry was told the overhead cables were appropriately sited but were at a height of 20-23ft - much lower than the extended ladder.