On 16 January 2024, a local government entity was sentenced in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court for breaching section 40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty pursuant to section 30 of the Act.
The defendant conducted a business which included the operation of various leisure centres, including an Aquatic Centre. The pools at the Aquatic Centre would be cleaned using a vacuum connected by an electrical lead and battery, and manoeuvred around the bottom of the pool by an aluminium pole that could attach to it. The pole was extendable to a maximum length of 9.7 metres and would be extended during the cleaning process. Uninsulated overhead powerlines, measuring 110 kilovolts, ran above the back pool area, approximately 8.2 metres from the ground. Due to the voltage, the powerlines required an exclusion zone of 3 metres for untrained persons.
On 20 February 2022, a worker employed by the defendant as a lifeguard and supervisor at the workplace was cleaning a pool using an aluminium pool pole, as part of his responsibilities of cleaning, maintaining, and servicing the pools. The pole was extended and was approximately 1 metre from the edge of the pool. The pole made contact with, or came in close proximity to, the overhead powerlines, causing the worker to receive an electric shock. Consequently, he was unable to move for 5 – 10 minutes and suffered minor electrical burns to his leg and foot.
The defendant failed to implement control measures such as completion of a risk assessment in relation to the pool cleaning procedure, ensuring a safe system of work for cleaning the pool and aquatic centre grounds, requiring workers to use low-risk cleaning equipment, mandating exclusion zones, providing clear warning signs and the provision of training, instruction and supervision to workers.
In sentencing, Magistrate Giolla Ri had regard to the principles specified in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 and the specific Work Health and Safety considerations distilled in common law. His Honour acknowledged that the measures in place were not cumbersome, and emphasized the probability of the risk materializing, noting that the consequences of the incident were also a relevant feature. He took into account the facts alleged with regard to the impact of the incident on the injured worker, noting that he is currently on leave due to the impact of the offending.
His Honour considered the defendant’s early plea of guilty, their exemplary history of serving the community, their lack of criminal history and the fact that some enquiries had been made about the overhead powerlines. It was noted that the defendant did have some procedures in place, albeit deficient ones.
His Honour noted that the defendant had the capacity to pay a fine, although being a local government entity, may not feel the effect of any monetary penalty as it would inevitably be paid to the State, from whom they receive a substantial portion of their funding. His Honour therefore ordered a fine of $80,000 in addition to ordering the defendant pay compensation to the injured worker in the amount of $5,000. His Honour exercised his discretion not to record a conviction.
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Sections 30 & 40C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011