The BVI Electricity Corporation (BVIEC) head office in Long Bush
Photo Credit: Clifton Skelton/BVI Platinum News
A High Court Judge has found that the BVI Electricity Corporation (BVIEC) must bear responsibility for the accident involving Andre Pickering, who sustained electric shock, resulting in severe injuries while conducting maintenance work at the power station in Long Bush in 2007.
The court heard evidence that Pickering, a Junior Cable Joiner, was doing maintenance work on electrical switches on the night of June 5, 2007 when he sustained "a massive electric shock".
Pickering, now 45 years of age, claimed that BVIEC was responsible for the accident, while the BIVEC denied liability and alleged that Pickering contributed to the accident by his negligence.
Efforts were made to settle the matter, but with no success and on November 11, 2009, Pickering filed a suit.
According to the court documents, Pickering had been employed with BVIEC for approximately 9 or 10 years prior to the accident.
On the day of the accident, Pickering and a team of 4 men supervised by Avery Percival were engaged in cleaning and maintaining certain electrical feeder switches at Long Bush.
Justice Rita Joseph-Olivetti in her judgment explained that the feeder switches in question were contained in a row of cabinets similar to large gym lockers. The Judge pointed out that each cabinet has two compartments, an upper which contains the bus connections and the control cubicle, and a lower which houses the switchgear.
According to the court, Pickering had performed the task of cleaning and maintenance of the bus bar and the feeder switches numerous times before without any mishap; however, never whilst under the supervision of Percival.
Court documents stated that Pickering, together with Alton 'Sugar' Vanterpool and David James had cleaned the bus bar at the back of the cabinets after Percival had shut down the current to the bus bar and given them the all clear.
He then moved to the fifth cabinet and waited on the all clear from Percival, who apparently had difficulty in turning off the current. According to Pickering, he had to seek help from the BVIEC's Deputy General Manager, Henry Creque via telephone.
According to the evidence, Percival left the room then returned and said the switches were dead, but only tested the switches at each end of the row, the first and the fifth. Pickering cleaned the fifth switch without incident and then moved to the fourth switch in the lower compartment.
In the judgment, Justice Joseph-Olivetti stated, "Before his screw driver, interestingly, the tool he was working with, even connected with the bushings on the switch, there was a huge explosion. He [Pickering] was thrown and he received a massive electrical shock".
"He had no protective clothing, gloves or footwear. There is no dispute that the fourth switch was the spare Road Town feeder switch, a live switch carrying some 7000 volts of electricity. Mr. Pickering was fortunate to survive despite sustaining severe injuries," Justice Joseph-Olivetti highlighted in her judgment.
According to court documents, the main factual controversy centered on the instructions given by Percival to Pickering and the rest of the team.
Pickering testified that he and the team were instructed to clean five feeder switches and the bus bar that night. However, it was the BVIEC's case that Pickering exceeded his instructions as the men were only supposed to clean the bus bar and three of the switches and that the spare Road Town feeder switch and the West End switch were not to be cleaned and they knew that the power was left on in those switches.
However, the Judge found that the instructions from Percival to the team were not clear.
"Even if contrary to my findings Percival did tell the team that they only had to clean 3 switches and Pickering misunderstood his instructions, this was not a deliberate case of doing what he ought not...no one person would deliberately make contact with a live switch bearing 7000 volts using a screw driver and I do not find that a misunderstanding of his instructions if that did happen amounted to him not taking reasonable care for his own safety as there is no indication that he was not paying attention to Mr. Percival or that he understood and flouted the instructions," the Judge pointed out.
According to the Judge, the fact remains that even if he had misunderstood the instructions, the accident would not have occurred if he was wearing protective clothing and had a safe tool rather than a screw driver and the live cabinets were locked.
I find no contributory negligence on his part. In all circumstances, in my judgment BVIEC is 100% liable for the accident and resulting injuries to Mr. Pickering as it failed to take basic measures to ensure a safe system of work and its failure was the primary and operative cause of the accident.
The Judge ruled judgment for Pickering together with prescribed costs to be based on the award of damages to be made upon due application for assessment.
The Judge also noted Creque's testimony that there have been attempts to have the matter settled outside. "I trust that this assessment will not be too protracted or costly, having regard to the length of time that has elapsed since the accident," the Judge noted.
William Hare of Forbes Hare represented Pickering, while Willa Tavernier and Akilah Anderson of Webster & Co. appeared for BVIEC.
More Required From BVIEC
The Judge found that more was required of BIVEC if they were to meet their obligation at common law to provide a reasonably safe place and method if work.
"Indeed, it is telling the precautions that BVIEC put in place after the accident including gloves, protective clothing and marking off of dangerous zones with yellow caution tape".
According to the Judge, this demonstrates without a doubt, that such precautions were reasonably necessary and that they were lacking the night of the accident.
The Judge also noted in Pickering's evidence, which went unchallenged, that he was not given any protective clothing and that the instrument he used was a screw driver.
According to the Judge, no reasonable employer would allow its employees to carry out such potentially dangerous work in such a manner.