Apprentice Electrocuted – Supervisors not Trained

Mr Tom Owen, 21, was working for Western Power Distribution (WPD) in a trench in Cardiff on 30th January 2017 when he was electrocuted.

An inquest into the death in July 2021 heard that his supervisors had no formal supervision training and he had previously failed a test for working with ‘live’ wires and had been using the wrong safety equipment on the day he died.

Mr Darren Berry, a trainer in cables and jointing, told the inquest that “outside of formal training courses, apprentices’ on-the-job training would be organised informally between tradespeople and apprentices, often working in pairs on individual jobs”. He also provided testimony that training was often ‘informal’ and there was no real training in supervision, “the jointers know their job and show apprentices how to do it”.

Berry stated “that at the time of Owen’s death there were no regular courses to keep jointers updated on the latest ways of working outside of occasional tool box talk”.

Assistant Coroner Sarah Richards “It is striking that they don’t see themselves as supervisors. They have no training as supervisors and no refresher courses. A jointer could be extremely proficient, but not proficient at teaching.”

Berry said the issue had been raised with his employers in the past and that “it is a conversation we’ve had with WPD many times, but we can only do what we’re allowed to do”.

Berry said that Owen had failed a test during his training on working with live wires. He had not been using the correct protective gloves and had not properly insulated the different wires from each other in a way. Owen had been very upset by the failure and they, Berry and Owen, had worked out an action plan to get more live experience.

The jury was told managers were told of the failure, but there was no official way of letting those who might be supervising him during on-the-job training know. I’d be very surprised if jointers didn’t know, but officially I don’t know. I’d hope the team manager would send him with someone who’d keep him on a very tight leash,” he said. However, the supervisor was working in a different trench which was out of sight when Owen was electrocuted.

Berry said Owen did not appear to have the correct equipment with him the day he died. He said he was missing a rubber mat which could have insulated against electric shock and wire cutters found in the trench were not insulated and should not have been used on live wires.

Owen’s was not wearing insulated gloves as they were found nearby. His boots were standard work boots rather than the specially-insulated wellington boots he should have been using. The exposed wires had not been insulated with the correct material, advised Berry.

Control measures introduced after the incident by WPD included the introduction of a policy of only allowing work on live cables with tools from a specific orange “live working” toolbox and that all other tools must be removed from the location before working on live cables. Additionally, the company now required those under supervision to wear jackets with “under personal supervision” written on the back of the jackets.

Berry advised the coroner that all jointers in the company should have had a “practical update” in the last 18 months where they were required to demonstrate practical skills in front of a trainer, but he did not know when or if that would be repeated.

The inquest continues……

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