Builder with hammer

Safety warning issued after live cabling found in wheelie bin

Image credit: Builder Kurhan |

Builders are increasingly tampering with live electricity cables and leaving them in a dangerous state, putting homeowners and the public at serious risk of injury or death, according to the UK’s largest electricity distributor.

UK Power Networks (UKPN) said last year, between April 2022 and March 2023, more than 1,000 instances of interference were recorded across London, the East and South-East of England. That is triple the number recorded the previous year.

Power workers are now finding unsafe sites on a regular basis, the distributor said.

In one recent case, live cabling was found dumped in a wheelie bin, where it could kill someone. Other examples include finding live cabling hanging from a fence or tacked onto a piece of wood.

The company has warned builders, demolition workers and homeowners to take care and call their network distributor if they want cables moved and a site survey will then be undertaken.

UKPN electricity surveyor Chris Slattery attends properties where customers have requested alterations to their electricity service, a new connection or an upgrade. He said many of these jobs have to be reported as dangerous or unsafe because a customer has had a power cable moved. According to Slattery, some customers are not aware that live cables cannot be moved by anyone, others “said they knew someone who would do it cheaply”.

“I have seen live electricity supplies left hanging off a wall, left on the floor or even left in a wheelie bin. Also, a lot of sites we are asked to attend are unsafe because they are a complete mess underfoot, and we have to abort our visit until it is safe to set foot on the site,” he added.

Ros Forbes, education and engagement advisor at UKPN, said: “The sort of situations that have been discovered, have the potential to cause life-changing injuries – or even death.

“A lot of these sites are relatively open to the public, so that can result in a danger not just to the builders on the job and tradespeople who follow them on to the site, but also to members of the public, as well as our own staff.”

UKPN’s aim is to ensure that electricity flows safely and reliably from the national grid to local customers’ homes and businesses. “Building tradespeople are a key target for us in order to communicate the safety message,” said Forbes. “In their eagerness to crack on with the job, some builders are putting themselves and others at considerable risk, and every accident is wholly avoidable.”

The distributor is advising builders that cable plans showing where electricity cables run can be obtained before starting any work via the UK Power Networks website. It adds that any emergency incident involving electricity cables, or damaged cabling, should be reported by dialling 105.

The warning comes just months after electrical experts, including a former employee of one the UK’s major power networks, told E&T that there is a real risk of deadly gas explosions and fires in the UK due to an increasingly common fault on the electricity network. 

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