Electrical breach by a sole trader

An electrician who carried on an electrical and air-conditioning business as a sole trader in south east Queensland pleaded guilty to failing to comply with the duty imposed on him under s.30 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (the Act). On 23 April 2020, the defendant was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for an offence contrary to s.40(c) of the Act, having failed to carry out his work in an electrically safe manner, contravening his electrical safety duty. He was convicted and fined $30,000 and ordered to pay costs of $1,601.80. The conviction was not recorded.

In June 2018, the defendant had been engaged to undertake repairs to a solar panel system on the roof of a shed at a property in Gatton. He engaged a company to install an edge protection system on the shed roof to manage the risk of falls from height whilst workers were on the roof performing their repair work. The defendant provided photographs of the shed to the edge-protection company. Powerlines in close proximity to the shed roof, which had warning flags installed on them, were visible in some of the photographs.

In July 2018, the edge-protection company tasked two of its workers to perform the work of installing an edge protection system on the roof of the shed. The defendant was present whilst the workers were undertaking this installation work. The process of installing the edge protection system involved one worker positioned on the ground passing lengths of steel rail to a worker positioned on the roof. In the course of that work, the worker positioned on the ground handed a 6.5 metre length of steel rail to the worker on the roof. While the steel rail was in the hands of the worker on the roof, it came into contact with, or within close proximity of, the powerline that was located nearest to the shed roof, causing the worker to receive an electric shock. At the time of the incident, the voltage passing through the uninsulated powerline was approximately 11,000 volts. The injured worker sustained burns to his hand and exit wounds to both feet. He required hospitalisation for approximately six weeks.

In sentencing the defendant, the Magistrate considered the gravity of the offending was serious, and that there was a need for general deterrence. He also noted the substantial ongoing impact to the victim as a result of the incident.

The Magistrate took into account this was the defendant’s first offence for a breach of the Act, there was an early plea of guilty and the defendant’s remorse and otherwise good character. The Magistrate also took into account the impact of a significant fine on the defendant, particularly with COVID-19 already having had a major impact on his business.

The Workplace Health and Safety Prosecutor, Aaron Guilfoyle, noted that incidents of this kind were far too prevalent. Mr Guilfoyle said, “The risk posed by powerlines is well known. It is a grave risk, and one which is not difficult to guard against. It is fortunate the consequences of the offending here, whilst certainly serious, were not more severe.”

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

Court Report  
Industry Electrical and Air Conditioning
Date of offence 13 July 2018
Injury Burns to left hand and exit wounds to both feet
Court Brisbane Magistrates Court
Magistrate Magistrate Merrin
Decision date 23 April 2020
Company Officer  
Legislation Sections 40(3) and 30, Electrical Safety Act 2002
Plea Guilty
Penalty $30,000
Maximum fine available $300,000
Professional and legal costs $1,500
Court costs $101.80
In default period to pay -
Conviction recorded No