A Pembrokeshire farmer sustained a fatal electric shock after equipment he was using came dangerously close to overhead power lines carrying 11,000 volts, an inquest heard.

Jonathan Huw Howells, known as Huw, had been helping out an elderly friend at his farm in Llawhaden on November8, 2020.

The jury inquest heard that, father of two, Mr Howells was an assistant mechanic and also had a business cutting back trees. He would often help people out and in this instance was doing a favour for long time family friend Emyr Davies.

Members of Mr Davies’ family were on hand helping, and the group had spent the day cutting trees near to the farm.

They had finished working at around 4.20pm and their attention had turned to some trees in the farmyard.

Coroner’s officer, Lisa Jenkins, told the hearing that Mr Davies, who was in his 80s wanted to install a care line into his home but problems with the tree branches meant that he had been having difficulty.

Mr Howells said that he would come back the next weekend to trim the branches but he manoeuvred his telehandler into the farmyard to check it was capable of reaching them.

Mr Howells and his friend Brian Twose, who had been helping all day, kept a close eye on the boom of the telehandler with regards to its proximity to overhead cables crossing the farmyard.

The inquest heard that Mr Howells was experienced at operating the telehandler, which was well maintained. He was competent and had been doing this type of work for some time. He was aware of the risks and did not take the work lightly.

The boom was around two feet away from the power lines when they stopped moving it. Mr Howells leant into the cab of the vehicle with his feet remaining on the ground.

For an unknown reason, the boom then moved closer to the power lines. Although it did not make contact with the overhead cables, electricity arced from them onto the boom of the vehicle, electrocuting Mr Howells.

Mr Twose tried to turn off the machine but received an electric shock and was thrown back eight feet. He then went to find a piece of wood to separate Mr Howells from the machine. Another member of the group had gone into the house to dial 999.

When Mr Twose returned to the vehicle Mr Howells collapsed to the floor. Mr Twose pulled him away from the machine and his friends carried out CPR until paramedics arrived and took over. Unfortunately their attempts were not successful.

A post-mortem gave the causes of death as cardio-respiratory arrest, electrocution and a farm accident.

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Evidence given by Health and Safety Executive specialist inspector, Stephen Eades, said that the power lines were above the regulatory minimum height and would have conducted 11,000 volts of electricity.

He said that it was likely that the boom came ‘within a reasonable close distance’ to create the arcing effect. He said the flow of power would have earthed itself through the nearest point of contact and the flow of least resistance.

He added that industry guidelines recommended establishing a three-metre exclusion zone when working near overhead power lines.

“We don’t know how this set of circumstances came about in terms of the boom coming in close proximity to the power lines,” said Pembrokeshire coroner Paul Bennett. “Could it have been a lapse of concentration? We don’t know.”

Mr Eades said it was a ‘very unfortunate accident’.

“There was guidance available to maintain a safe distance,” he said. “That guidance does not seem to have been followed in this tragic tragic case.”

Mr Howells’ family said that he had been undertaking similar work just days before the incident and had a good working relationship with Western Power Distribution.

“They spoke very highly of him, everybody was so proud of how he did his work,” they said. “It is very difficult to understand [how this happened]. We will never know.”

The jury of eight women and two men took some time to consider the evidence presented to them. They returned a conclusion of accidental death, saying Mr Howells had suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of the electricity from the overhead cables arcing onto the boom of the telehandler.

Mr Bennet thanked them for attending, along with the witnesses. He extended his condolences to Mr Howells’ family.

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