On 5 August 2020, in the Townsville Magistrates Court, the defendant company was convicted of an offence contrary to ss 40C and 33 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (the ‘Act’) for failure to ensure that the equipment it imported was electrically safe, which exposed individuals to a risk of death or serious injury. The sole director of the company was convicted of an offence contrary to s 40C of the Act for failure to ensure that the defendant company complied with its electrical safety obligation under s 38A of the Act. Both defendants had previously entered guilty pleas.
Magistrate Ross Mack convicted and fined the defendant company $250,000. The director was convicted and fined $50,000.
The defendant company, Pump Factory Pty Ltd, imported and sold electrical equipment including water pumps. In June 2016, the defendant company imported 500 submersible water pumps into Australia from a Chinese manufacturer. On 27 July 2016, a member of the public purchased one of the pumps.
On or about 28 February 2017, the purchaser and his cousin, the other occupant of the residence, attempted to operate the pump and failed. The purchaser informed his cousin that it would be necessary to call an electrician or purchase a new pump. When the purchaser returned from work to the residence after midnight on the morning of 1 March 2017, he noticed that the hot water at the house was not working. Upon investigation, the purchaser noticed the black power cord of the pump plugged into a double wall socket at the rear of the property, and the other outlet on the socket plugged into the hot water system. The purchaser then found his cousin lying in the backyard with the pump in her hand lying across her chest and neck. Police and ambulance officers attended, and the victim was pronounced dead. The cause of death was electrocution.
An investigation was conducted by Electrical Safety Office inspectors working with Workplace Health
and Safety investigators. The investigation established several faults with the pump. First, it was possible for a short circuit from the “active” conductor to the “earthed metal casing” in the pump to occur, which could make the metal casing “live”. The pump had also sustained overheating damage of the “earth” conductor in the supply flexible cord, creating an open circuit and leaving the pump unprotected from electrical failures to earth. The insulation of the pump’s supply flexible cord was also damaged at the entry point of the pump, which exposed live conductors.
In sentencing, Magistrate Ross Mack noted that the pumps were intrinsically dangerous, which would have been readily apparent if they had been tested by an accredited tester. His Honour also took into account the early guilty pleas of both defendants, the defendant company’s good corporate citizenship and the director’s good character, and that neither defendant had previous convictions of any kind.
His Honour acknowledged that the offences were evidently serious from the 240V pumps, the obvious risk arising and the fatal outcome. His Honour also took into account that a fatality occurred and the emotional harm caused as a result.
Magistrate Mack noted that the defendant could have easily ensuring that the pumps were safe through testing, as testing would have identified the flaws and prevented their sale until the appropriate modifications were made. While His Honour noted that the defendants took some steps to ensure the pump’s safety, the defendants agreed that those steps were insufficient. Moreover, His Honour stated that the steps were patently inadequate for someone seeking to import and sell pumps nationally, and could never have been adequate in the circumstances. His Honour emphasised the inadequacy of the defendant’s conduct, as although the director was assured that the pumps met European standards, he did not enquire as to what those standards were or recall how he came to believe that those standards were equivalent to Australian standards.
His Honour distinguished the matter from other workplace matters where workers have the ability to appreciate the risks present. His Honour acknowledged that although this fact does not lessen the obligation on employers, the deceased was not alert to the risk and she had no reason to be aware that the pump was a risk to her safety. Magistrate Mack justified a higher penalty for this reason.
A conviction was recorded for the defendant company, but not for the director.
“This was a tragic fatality which, as is too often the case, could have been so easily avoided”, said the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor, Mr Aaron Guilfoyle. “Had the importer arranged for the inspection of the pump before its resale, to ensure it met Australian standards, the faults would have been identified and a senseless death would have been avoided. There is simply no excuse for failures of this kind. Those who are minded to take short cuts, and put lives at risk as a result, expose themselves to potential prosecution and significant penalties”, said Mr Guilfoyle.
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ss. 40C, 33 Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Qld)
ss. 40C, 33 Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Qld)