Line Workers & Electricians Staying Out of Court and Gaol

Litigation is rampant in Australia and safety regulators are active in prosecutions where electricians, line workers and authorised network contractors do the wrong thing. This article looks at how these ‘tradies’ can get into trouble (e.g. the incidents and prosecutions that PowerLogic reports each month), but more importantly, how to stay out of trouble. The article will be focused on preventing incidents that impact on the general public at their own premises or on public property.
Prosecution
Prosecution for ‘stuff-ups’ can not only result in significant fines for individuals and companies but also gaol time for individuals. The table shown provides indicative fines and gaol times for the various states and territories in Australia. Industrial manslaughter provides even longer gaol terms and more extensive fines.

Typical Penalties for WHS Breaches

Line Workers

Line workers can impact on the safety of the general public in a few different ways including the general public being injured on or near line worker worksites. Control measures may include having traffic control in place if working near roadways and having work areas barricaded off to prevent pedestrian access.

There are often incidents, way too regular for my liking, where line workers or authorised network contractors get the network polarity connected incorrectly and that will place people’s lives at risk. Getting network polarity wrong can also result in blown up electrical equipment, electrical equipment not working correctly as well as electric shocks/electrocutions. Ensuring the correct connections for services, mains and transformers will prevent problems. Simple procedures and high-quality training is needed.

BUT, what will be the impact on a lineworker if they were to electrocute someone with a reverse polarity? This would fit into a Category 1 offence, with fines in excess of $300,000 and/or five years imprisonment (see the table).

Another litigation opportunity can occur where an electric shock incident is reported, and the line worker or electrician fails to identify or find the faulty neutral connector or other cause of the incident. Proper training and suitable test instruments will help prevent problems. This is where PowerLogic’s Electric Shock Investigation training comes into its own.

Of course, there are many other ways that line workers can cause incidents, but these are the main ways that the general public might be injured or killed.

Lineworkers about to test neutral connections for an electric shock investigation

Electricians

Electricians often do little or no continuing professional development (CPD) except in those states with ongoing CPD requirements and so, may easily get themselves into trouble.

In our August 2022 Electrical Incidents and Prosecutions report, incidents and prosecutions ranged from reverse polarities to missing MEN links, failure to lock out/tag out to incorrectly connected appliances.

Again, this leaves an electrician exposed to fines in excess of $300,000 and/or five years imprisonment to prosecution for companies for industrial manslaughter with fines for the company at $10M or more, and for individuals involved with fines of $5M and 20-year gaol terms.

An electrician testing for ‘dead’ with appropriate arc flash PPE

One huge failing in the industry is the continued practice of thinking that ‘live’ work is OK. ‘Live’ work is never OK – even tightening a loss screw. Laws have been in place since 2010 in many states where ‘live’ work has been outlawed. There are a few exemptions to this but they often don’t ‘stack up’.

Another failing, is the lack of understanding of arc flash. Get some training if you don’t understand arc flash – PowerLogic can help in this regard.

Options to Prevent Prosecution and Gaol

This is all so scary from someone just trying to make a living. So, what can all tradies do to stay out of trouble?

Firstly, for those working for employers – you must follow company policies and procedures and be diligent in your efforts. Seek advice if you come across something that you don’t understand. Actively and enthusiastically be involved in training, etc, etc.

Secondly, for employers – most importantly, you must have safe systems of work in place that are followed diligently. There are so many initiatives that will help ensure the safe systems of work do operate as expected. Initiatives include toolbox talks, coaching sessions, audits, training, safety programs, peer observations, etc, etc.

Small employers, with one or two workers including the principal of the business, don’t get a ‘get out of gaol’ free card – they need safe systems of work, just like the big employers. PowerLogic is here to help.

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