On 23 January 2024 an electrical contractor was convicted in the Maroochydore Magistrates Court of a ‘category 2’ offence against section 40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2022 (ES Act).

The defendant had a duty under section 30 of the ES Act to ensure that his business or undertaking is conducted in a way that is electrically safe, that he failed to comply with that duty and the failure exposed an individual to the risk of death or serious injury or illness.

The defendant, as an electrical contractor, was subcontracted to perform electrical work associated with installation of air conditioning units at Coolum Beach State School.

On the morning of 17 August 2021, he had been instructed to cease further work in one of the temporary classroom buildings by the principal contractor’s site supervisor. The principal contractor had removed temporary fencing restricting entry to the area so that it could be returned to the school for use that afternoon.

Contrary to instructions, the defendant entered the classroom and commenced live testing on the sub switchboard located inside.

He left the live switchboard with the escutcheon panel removed temporarily, potentially exposing any teachers or students entering the classroom to the live terminals. If contacted persons were exposed to a risk of death or serious injury.

Magistrate McLaughlin SM noted that this was a serious offence as primary school children, who are ‘unpredictable beings’, were potentially exposed to the risk.

The offending was mitigated by the very short length of time that persons were exposed to the risk and the fact that children should have been in class, noting however that children may be outside the classroom when going to the toilet or on field excursions within school grounds.

Magistrate McLaughlin referenced the sentencing principles adopted in Steward v Mac Plant from the decision in Nash v Silver City Drilling noting:

  • The potential consequences of the offending were catastrophic. The offending conduct was inherently dangerous and would have been readily apparent even to an ordinary person
  • The probability of the consequences being realised were relatively low
  • The steps required to be taken to prevent the offending were easy to perform
  • Those steps were not burdensome, and the defendant was lazy in failing to comply
  • The maximum penalty of $300,000.

Magistrate McLaughlin noted the following factors in mitigation:

  • Early guilty plea
  • First offence
  • Imposition of a $300 fine by the Electrical Licensing Committee (ELC)
  • Voluntarily undertaking a retraining course, and 2 further courses mandated by the ELC at a cost of $1000, as expressions of genuine remorse

Magistrate McLaughlin referenced 2 previous Magistrates Courts decisions cited by defence by way of comparable sentencing, noting McGill, J’s comments in Reynolds v Orora Packaging and further that Magistrates Courts sentences are wildly divergent.

He considered that the offending in this case was more serious than that reported in E296682 as in this case the offending was as a result of a conscious decision by the defendant. Further it appeared from the very short sentencing remarks of the magistrate in that case that the sentence had been reduced due to the very serious injuries sustained by the defendant himself.

The low fines attributed to each of the five category 2 offences in E292383 were a consequence of the ‘totality principle’.

Magistrate McLaughlin commented that based on the mitigating factors presented, he would ordinarily have sentenced the defendant to a fine in a range of $15,000 - $20,000.

However, he was required to take into account the evidence presented of the defendant’s very limited income over a number of years, which he equated to ‘minimum wage’ earnings, and for that reason, he imposed a fine of $10,000.

No conviction was recorded against the defendant.

The defendant was also ordered to pay legal costs and court fees of $1,101.40.

OWHSP contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au

Court Report

Electrical and air conditioning
Date of offence
Maroochydore Magistrates Court
Magistrate or judge
Magistrate M. McLaughlin
Decision date

Sections 30 and 40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2022

Maximum fine available
Professional and legal costs
Court costs
In default period
Time to pay
Referred to SPER
Conviction recorded