Man electrocuted by 11,000 volts at Norfolk garden nursery ‘had no safety training’, court told

PS and JE Ward Ltd, the company that operated Belmont Nursery, denies the charges and directors Peter and Jane Ward were at Norwich Crown Court to listen to proceedings. PS and JE Ward Ltd, the company that operated Belmont Nursery, denies the charges and directors Peter and Jane Ward were at Norwich Crown Court to listen to proceedings.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
9:24 AM

A nurseryman was killed when his tractor trailer came into contact with overhead power lines electrocuting him, a court heard.

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Grzegorz Pieton, 27, had been driving a tractor when its metal hydraulic-lift trailer came into contact with the 11,000 volt overhead cables at Belmont Nursery in Terrington St Clement.

Mr Pieton had been moving soil at the firm, which produces cut flowers and bulbs for companies that supply supermarket chains. PS and JE Ward Ltd, the company that operated Belmont Nursery, is accused of corporate manslaughter and failing to ensure the safety of an employee.

The company denies the charges and directors Peter and Jane Ward were at Norwich Crown Court to listen to proceedings.

A 12-strong jury was sworn in yesterday and heard an outline of the prosecution case.

Duncan Atkinson, prosecuting, said the young father’s response was to climb out of the tractor cab - meaning he earthed the current from the tractor to the ground.

Mr Pieton, a Polish national who had a wife and young daughter, died on July 15, 2010, in the peony field off Long Road.

A post mortem recorded that burns to Mr Pieton’s left hand and the toes of both feet were consistent with his left hand touching the tractor as his feet touched the ground.

Mr Atkinson said there had been a catalogue of health and safety issues which amounted to corporate manslaughter.

He told the court that Mr Pieton had not been trained to drive the tractor, it was unusual for him to be doing so and questioned whether Mr Ward had asked him to that day.

The firm mostly employed workers from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia but did not translate most health and safety literature and relied on other workers to act as interpreters, he added.

He said the company had grown trees around the base of the power line poles, thereby obscuring the warning signs that said ‘danger of death.

Pipes had been laid below the power lines but the company failed to take up a free health and safety advice site visit from EDF Energy, added Mr Atkinson.

He alleged some employees felt the focus was on productivity and there was not a “health and safety culture”.

And he said when emergency services and the power company were on scene after the fatality: “Three or four times when they were there, members of the company asked if they could have their trailer back.”

Mr Atkinson said there was a pictorial warning inside the tractor showing the front of the tractor hitting overhead power lines.

“To a member of staff suddenly confronted with an emergency such as this, that little picture would be grossly inadequate instruction and training to the staff,” he said.

Barbara Hill, who lived near to the field, had been in her rear garden when she saw “dark-coloured smoke” over the top of her bungalow.

She initially thought her bungalow was on fire, before pushing her way through a hedge to see sparks, smell burning tyre rubber and see Mr Pieton lying on his back nearby.

She called emergency services, and paramedic Kirsty Burgess described using a defibrillator but seeing no improvement in heartbeat.

Firefighters instructed paramedics to move Mr Pieton further away from the tractor for their own safety, as there was a danger of the electricity jumping through the air.

The air ambulance attended, but Mr Pieton was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn by land ambulance and pronounced dead at 11.18am.

Miles Bennett, defending, established that Mr Pieton had not been face down, and said the expert who compiled the post-mortem had only been given one scenario to consider.

The trial, which is set to run for three weeks, continues.

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