Ask H&H: power lines in a horse’s field

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    Q: My mare was killed in her field one night when she walked under a dipped power line attached to a damaged telegraph pole.

    The owner of the field has never been asked for maintenance access by the power company.

    Should the local electricity board be checking the power lines regularly and are they therefore responsible for this accident?
    DH, Yorkshire

    This is a sad occurrence, but unfortunately not an isolated one.

    Tim Price of insurers NFU Mutual told H&H that any injuries or damage arising from broken power lines might give scope for legal action against the owners of the power lines, if they were negligent or in breach of any statutory duty.

    We asked a member of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) electrical networks specialist team to explain the legal background.

    “Owners and operators of overhead power lines, or distributors, are required to comply with certain safety regulations,” said the spokesman. “In general, these require distributors to ensure their equipment is constructed, installed, protected, used and maintained so as to prevent danger — including to livestock and domestic animals — so far as is reasonably practicable.”

    Overhead lines must be a minimum height above ground for each voltage level. Distributors must make “dead” any line that does not comply with these regulations.

    “All instances of an overhead line being below the statutory height are reportable to the HSE,” said the spokesman. “HSE does not as a rule get involved in claims made under civil law, however.

    “Electricity networks must be inspected with sufficient frequency to ensure compliance; typically, every four to eight years for wood pole lines. These can be carried out on foot or by helicopter — using Thermovision equipment to locate problems that can then be rectified before failure occurs.

    “These routine inspections may well be carried out under the provisions of the Wayleave Agreement without the landowner being made aware. It is quite possible that, for some networks, no maintenance will be required for 20 years.”

    CE Electric UK is responsible for electricity distribution in Yorkshire, northern Lincolnshire and the north-east. Company spokesman Michael Sargood was unable to comment on this specific incident, but said: “General industry guidelines are that 10 per cent of the overhead line network should be inspected every year — a different 10 per cent each time.

    “When CE Electric UK carries out inspections, we look at the condition of electricity pylons, the lines themselves and any equipment, such as sub stations. We also use helicopters to conduct overhead line inspection.”

    The relevant distribution network operator should be the first port of call for members of the public/landowners who want to report problems such as a dipped power line.

    If callers to the company are not satisfied with the response, they should contact HSE’s public information line on 0845 345 0055 for advice, information and support.

    This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (26 February, ’09)

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