The District Court has fined a contracting company $90,000 after an incident with electricity lines during building works.

The Defendant Company was engaged to carry out some digging work on a construction site.  At a meeting the electricity line was noted, but it was believed that the work would be carried out well away from the line and therefore the electricity company was not contacted to disconnect the line.  Unfortunately, during the work the digger skewed around, getting its boom entangled in the line and snapping a power pole and bringing it to the ground.

No one was injured during the incident luckily, but after the accident one of the manager’s instructed a worker to cut the wire away from the digger.  This was despite being told that the electricity company had been notified and was sending a technician out.  The worker proceeded to cut away the wire to free the digger and again was very luckily not injured in the process.  When the technician arrived and tested the wire he found it to be live and so it was amazing that neither the digger driver nor the worker, who cut the wire after the accident, were seriously injured or killed.

The company involved was in some financial difficulties and that was taken into account in setting the amount of the fine.  Also taken into account was the fact that the company had been in business for 25 years without any prior incidents involving health and safety.  Unfortunately for the company the incident occurred on the day the new health and safety at work penalties came into effect which increased the maximum fine for the company from $250,000 to $1.5 million.  The $90,000 fine therefore was mainly to reflect the inability of the company to pay a large fine even over time.  WorkSafe agreed that the company’s prior blameless record of 25 years indicated that the fine should not be set at such a rate as to put the company into liquidation.

When working near potential power lines the power should always be disconnected before work is commenced. If an accident has occurred, the site should be secured and everyone kept well away from potentially contacting the lines, until the electricity company has been able to attend and disconnect the power.  Having a worker cut away the line before that happened could have been a fatal error of judgment.

Alan Knowsley
Employment & Health & Safety Lawyer