On 18 May 2021, the defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Gatton Magistrates Court for breaching section 40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its health and safety duty, exposing an individual to a source of electrical risk. The family-owned edge protection company breached its duty under section 30(1) of the (the ‘Act’) to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that its business undertaking was conducted in a way that was electrically safe.
In June 2018, the defendant was engaged by an electrical contractor to install an edge protection system on the roof of a shed located at a produce farm in Gatton, Queensland, in order to protect the contractor from the risk of falls from height. The process of installing the edge protection system involved moving lengths of steel rail and installing them around the perimeter of the roof. Parts of the roof of the shed were in close proximity to live overhead powerlines, and within the statutory exclusion zone.
On 13 July 2018, a worker employed by the defendant attended the worksite to commence the installation. In the course of performing this work, the worker climbed onto the roof of the shed and was handed a 6.5 metre length of steel rail. Whilst the steel rail was in his left hand, it came into contact with, or within close proximity of, the 11KV uninsulated powerline that was located near the roof of the shed, causing an electric shock pathway to flow from the powerline through the steel rail and into his body.
The worker received severe burns to his left hand, in which he was holding the steel rail, and exit wounds to both of his feet. He was hospitalised for his injuries for approximately six weeks. The injuries required skin-grafts and ongoing surgical treatment. At the time of the incident, the injured worker had been employed by the defendant for a period of approximately four years. The worker had not received training about identifying and managing electrical safety risks, beyond a general direction to stay four metres away from powerlines.
In sentencing, Magistrate Osbourne had regard to the maximum penalty of $1.5 million which reflected the seriousness of the offence. His Honour noted that without adequate control measures being put in place to eliminate or minimise the risk posed by the high voltage overhead power line, the likelihood of the electrical risk manifesting was obvious, identifiable, and foreseeable.
His Honour also considered that general deterrence was a significant consideration and remarked that a message must be sent to others in a similar position that breaches of work health and safety obligations will be met with significant penalties.
In mitigation, the Magistrate took into account the defendant’s timely plea of guilty, which indicated remorse and a willingness to facilitate the course of justice. His Honour had regard to the defendant’s lack of prior convictions and otherwise good character. His Honour also had regard to the extensive steps taken by the defendant to ensure compliance with safety obligations post-incident, as well as tireless efforts to support the injured worker in their recovery.
His Honour took into account the financial circumstances of the defendant and acknowledged that it was a small, family-owned business and that the imposition of a substantial fine was likely to have a significant impact on them.
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Sections 30(1) and 40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2002