Energy supplier fined after leaning powerline leads to electrocution death

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
3 Min Read

A Queensland-based energy supplier has been fined $300,000 after six workers were electrocuted and one died at a Rockhampton farm.

The energy supplier pleaded guilty after failing to ensure the safety of an overhead powerline and its supporting structures were safe after neglecting its duty to facilitate thorough visual safety inspections.

In July 2021, employees at the farm were operating a harvester when the vehicle came into contact with, or too close to, a low-hanging corroded powerline, electrocuting the workers.

One worker died at the scene, while another five received electric shocks, resulting in hospitalisation.

The dangerous power pole had been inspected ten months earlier, with corrosion noted and a non-urgent rectification timeframe issued.

However, WorkSafe Queensland investigations found two visually obstructed stay wires, which supported the powerline, had broken due to the corrosion, causing the pole to shift and the powerline to drop significantly in height.

When the power pole was eventually straightened after the accident, the powerline rose more than three meters, suggesting the incident was avoidable.

Stay three meters clear of overhead lines

WorkSafe Queensland warns that coming too close to overhead electric lines can have deadly consequences, recommending a minimum three-metre exclusion zone for untrained workers operating near overhead powerlines.

“Working near powerlines can be fatal,” WorkSafe Queensland guidelines warn.

“Touching them or straying into the exclusion zone around them can result in a serious electric shock.”

A WorkSafe Queensland statement said the Rockhampton Magistrates Court heard the defendant failed to ensure its works were electrically safe.

“Its duty was fundamental, and its failure exposed an entire group of workers to serious risk, with a catastrophic outcome,” it said the court concluded.

“The magistrate acknowledged the seriousness of the offending and recognised that the loss to the deceased’s family must be unbearable.”

The court was not required to assign blame for the incident and considered the energy suppliers’ guilty plea, cooperation and past nature as a “good corporate citizen”.

A fine of $300,000 was issued in addition to $1601.40 in court costs.

The energy supplier has since rectified its inspection process to include an assessment of the stay wires underneath the stay guards.

Those worried about the an electrical safety issue at their workplace can raise a safety concern with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Electrical Safety Office via an online form.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.