On 4 September, a farmer pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Dalby Magistrates Court for breaching section 40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with his electrical safety duty under section 30 of the Act, exposing multiple persons to serious injuries from electrical shock. The defendant was fined $16,000 and no conviction was recorded.
The defendant owns and operates a rural farm at Tara involving livestock and grain production. Several grain silos are located on the property in close proximity to an 11 kV energised high-voltage line, which hangs approximately 7 metres above the silos. The defendant owns a grain auger to transfer grain to and from the silos.
On 17 October 2017, the defendant and a worker were relocating the auger to transfer grain from a silo. The defendant was operating the auger’s controls to drive it into its intended position. The worker was located at the other end of the auger manually directing the path of travel via a jockey wheel. The auger had been used immediately before the incident to transfer grain into another silo and, when relocating it, the defendant did not lower the auger pipe. While relocating the auger, the head of the raised pipe contacted the overhead line and caused both the defendant and the worker to sustain burns and serious injury from electrical shock.
An investigation by WHSQ and ESO revealed there was no exclusion zone in place to alert persons to the overhead power line nor had the defendant implemented any other control to otherwise manage the risk from the line. The investigation further revealed the defendant did not have any safe work system in place to address the risk from the overhead power line.
In sentencing, Magistrate Tracey Mossop determined the defendant’s failing was that he did not install an exclusion zone in the vicinity of the overhead line to ensure plant did not encroach into the area and thereby place persons at risk. Her Honour further found the defendant ought to have provided adequate training and instruction to the workers in the task of moving the grain auger given the location of the overhead line. The Magistrate found installation of an exclusion zone could have been easily achieved, noting it was implemented post-incident, and that this control was detailed in the applicable Code of Practice. Her Honour also observed that it would have been reasonable and practicable to have a third-party observer present to act as a spotter to oversee the movement of the grain auger to ensure it did not contact the line. Magistrate Mossop noted the maximum penalty that applied to this offence.
When considering the penalty to be imposed, the Magistrate had regard to the victim impact statement tendered on behalf of the injured worker and noted that both the defendant and the worker had suffered significant injuries. In mitigation, her Honour took into account the defendant’s early guilty plea, his strained financial circumstances and that any fine would significantly impact him due to his modest income. Magistrate Mossop also took into account the positive character references tendered to the Court on the defendant’s behalf, and his absence of any prior offending.
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Section 40C and section 30 (duty) Electrical Safety Act 2002