Farm fined £60,000 after driver is fatally electrocuted

A Devon farm business has been fined £60,000 after a tipper truck driver was electrocuted as he delivered stone on its land.

Paddy Rice, 43, was killed when he stepped out of his truck, which had struck 11,000-volt overhead power lines in a field near a huge log pile where he had been told to tip the stone.

Exeter Magistrates Court was told on Thursday 18 August the log pile was the third “overflow” area where the stone was to be tipped, along a track on the 809ha estate.

See also: How to work safely near overhead power lines on farmland

Witness Martin Bragg said overhead power cables should be a “red flag” to drivers of diggers and tipper lorries.

Mr Rice, a father of three from Copplestone, Devon, was on his third drop at the site at VB Farms’ Spreyton Estate at Crediton in May 2021 when the incident happened.

Farm manager George Perrott told the court he knew there were pylons in the field, but did not think they posed an “excessive risk”. He said signage systems had changed since the incident.

Mr Rice was described by his family as a “kind, hard-working man who is dreadfully missed” and a “very experienced, sensible driver”.

VB Farms denied breaching Health and Safety at Work laws in relation to safe working around overhead power lines.

The court was told health and safety standards at the farm were “far in excess of farming standards” and the farm also relied on external health and safety advisors.

No risk assessment

But District Judge Stuart Smith found the farm guilty, saying a risk assessment had not been considered, which could have saved Mr Rice from this “tragic and devastating” incident.

The judge said the end of the log pile where the stone was to be tipped was open to misinterpretation and no one had shown Mr Rice where to do this in person – unlike two previous sites where he had tipped the day before.

VB Farms said it had made improvements, including introducing a mapping and barcode system. It has also got Western Power to map precisely where every overhead power cable is on its land.

The £60,000 fine and costs of £11,900 must be paid within 28 days.