Powerline fatality leads to guilty plea

Electrical Safety Office
Wednesday, 08 November, 2023

Powerline fatality leads to guilty plea

An energy supplier in Queensland has pleaded guilty to a Category 2 offence for failing to ensure an overhead powerline and its supporting structures spanning farmland were safe.

The supplier was fined $300,000 in a decision handed down in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court.

The site in question was a field where a power pole was kept vertical by a number of stay wires, each of which were separately attached to the ground. There were guards at the bottom of each stay wire obscuring a portion of it.

During an inspection of the power pole in late September 2020, corrosion was noted and given a Priority 3 rating, meaning it did not require rectification within a particular time frame.

Ten months later, employees operating a harvester were working underneath the overhead powerline when the top of the harvester either contacted or came very close to the powerline.

One worker was electrocuted and died, and another five received electric shocks and were hospitalised.

It was found that one of two stay wires had become corroded and as a consequence broke, allowing the power pole to shift and the powerline to drop. When the pole was straightened after the incident, the powerline height over the machinery rose more than three metres.

The defendant was charged with a failure to have a system of routine visual inspection of the entire length of the stay wires, including the portions covered by the guards. The energy supplier subsequently amended its inspection process to require routine inspection of stay wires underneath the stay guard.

The court heard that the defendant failed to ensure its works were electrically safe; its duty was fundamental; and its failure exposed an entire group of workers to serious risk, with a catastrophic outcome.

The magistrate recognised that the loss to the deceased’s family must be unbearable, while noting that she was not required to apportion blame. She accepted the defendant is a good corporate citizen and had expressed sincere remorse.

She also took into consideration a number of significant mitigating features, including early and ongoing cooperation, and an early plea of guilty.

Image credit: iStock.com/artisteer

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