by John Shingleton - Director, Shingleton Lawyers Limited LL.B, LL.M France (1989)
You would have to be living on a desert island not to know that under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (and regulations) workers safety is paramount. Identifying hazards is a first step in ensuring a safe working environment, but the reforms were also about instilling a risk management culture within workplaces. This means just listing hazards without assessing the level of risk to people will no longer cut the mustard.
The District Court has recently issued a judgment against Wellington Electricity Limited and NorthPower. Each company was charged under section 163D of the Electricity Act 1992 (intentionally or negligently causing or permitting work to be done in a manner dangerous to life).
Wellington Electricity Limited was fined $26,000 NorthPower was fined $30,000. The two companies had previously voluntarily paid the worker $20,000 following a restorative justice hearing. Wellington Electricity was ordered to pay a further $4,030 and NorthPower a further $6,000 in reparations to the worker bringing total reparations to the worker to $30,030.
According to WorkSafe, Wellington Electricity engaged NorthPower to carry out maintenance work on roadside transformers in the Wellington region. Two NorthPower employees were working in Karori on 27 May 2014 when a bracket fell onto live contacts causing an electrical short, resulting in a flashover. The victim sustained serious burns that required specialist treatment from the burns unit.
WorkSafe noted that the companies’ failures included; a work plan that lacked clear instructions to prompt workers to stop if they encountered increased risks or conditions that were different to what was in the work plan; not shutting off the power before any maintenance work was undertaken at this site; and not documenting their hazard assessments in one place, such as the work plan that was available to the workers
WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector, Keith Stewart was quoted as saying in a media release that “Incidents such as this should not happen. Working near live components is a well-known hazard in the industry, and risks should be appropriately managed to protect the workers.”
This case was heard under different legislation to the current legislation. My bet is that under the current laws as they stand, those companies would have faced much heftier fines.
So, if you have workers who are or could be exposed to electrical hazards, have you drawn up a comprehensive work safety plan that includes when workers must stop work? If not, then you most probably are not compliant.