A BUILDER who suffered serious burns when he hit an 11,000 volt electrical cable with a jackhammer has told of the psychological effects he suffers, two years on from the incident.

Tom Sharp, 52, had not been told that high voltage cables ran underneath the car park at Northgate Vehicle Sales, based in Darlington, after the company failed to apply for plans showing the location of electrical services.

A million watts of power, equivalent to 250,000 electric fires, hit Mr Sharp when he broke through the cable, searing his clothes to his skin and causing 20 per cent burns to his arms, face and neck.

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Northgate Vehicle Services, which had employed Mr Sharp as a sub-contractor to erect a metal fence, today (Wednesday, January 6) pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations by failing to inform the main contractor of the underground cables.

The company, based in Allington Way, admitted liability following a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £6,123 costs by Darlington magistrates.

The Northern Echo:

Mr Sharp, of Oakenshaw, near Crook, County Durham, spent more than a month in hospital after the incident in November 2010 and had physiotherapy and treatment for his burns for more than a year.

He is still receiving therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Sharp said: “My physical injuries have improved in the last two years, but they are still not 100 per cent.

"I have problems with strength and movement in my arms and I’ve had to step back from some of the physical work involved in running my company.

“I’m still having psychological treatment. I go to therapy sessions to go to help me with post-traumatic stress.

“I was actually digging the last hole when it happened. I remember a massive, massive flash and just getting burned. I was thrown back by the electric shock.”

Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Sharp was using a groundbreaker to dig holes when the tool pierced the 11,000 volt cable.

The resulting short circuit released enough energy to vaporise the breaker’s tip in a cloud of flame and molten metal.

HSE investigator Jonathan Wills told magistrates that Northgate Vehicle Sales was under a legal obligation to provide contractors with all reasonable safety information, including details of high voltage electricity cables.

He added: “Northgate should have been able to do this simply by calling the utility company, which would have provided detailed plans. When asked why they had not requested such plans they [the company] said they had not envisaged that there would be any cables in the area.

“This is an unusual comment, given that the company is based in a heavily industrialised area.”

Alison Gray, in mitigation, said: “Northgate Vehicle Sales entirely accepts that it was up to them to get the plans showing the cables and they did not do so.

"Staff did not believe there were cables in the area because the company has no need for high-voltage power and there is no sub-station nearby.

“They did provide information about cables for CCTV and lighting which shows they did provide information on some cables, but not others.”

In a statement, David Henderson, Northgate Plc company secretary, said: “The company has always placed a high priority on the health and safety of its staff, its contractors and other members of the public.

“The company has reviewed and amended its systems and procedures since this incident so as to prevent a reoccurrence.”