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The following article is a general news item provided for the benefit of members. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the Safety Institute of Australia.
Date: 
Tuesday, 5 March, 2019 - 13:30
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Queensland

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) recently issued a safety warning after an incident in which two people were electrocuted on a rural Queensland property.

A mother and her daughter were electrocuted on a rural property after contacting a length of electric fencing type wire that was energised.

The electric fencing wire was run from the bull bar of a truck to a tree stump on the property.

Early investigations indicate that a damaged extension cord which had an exposed a section of copper wire made the metal parts of the truck live at 240v A.C.

This included the bull bar and a hook connected to electric fencing type wire. The extension cord was plugged into a socket outlet supplying the battery charger, charging the battery system inside the truck.

The circuit was not protected by a safety switch (RCD), but by a rewireable fuse using copper wire instead of correctly rated fuse wire. Investigations are continuing.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland said electrical risks include using:

·         plug-in electrical equipment in an unroofed area or wet area (such as a hose down area)

·         personally supported electrical equipment (handheld or carried) if the electricity supply cord is subject to flexing while the equipment is being used

·         plug-in electrical equipment that is exposed to environmental factors (such as corrosive or other damaging dusts (like metal dust), or corrosive chemicals in the air) that cause abnormal wear or deterioration.

“Safety switches are a good way of reducing the risk to people from electric shock,” said Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

“However, they only protect people if they operate instantly when an electrical fault occurs.

“Failure to test a switch regularly means you don’t know if it still works or not – the switch’s movement may become stiff with age or corrosion.

“You should visually examine electrical equipment to see whether power points, light fittings, switchboards, wiring and other electrical equipment are undamaged and in operational condition.

“If you find any problems, or suspect something is not electrically safe, you should quarantine the damaged equipment or engage a licensed electrical contractor or an employee who is a licensed electrician.”

Each year around 325 accepted workers’ compensation claims involve a worker contacting electricity. On average one of these involves a fatality, while 10 per cent result in a serious injury requiring five days or more off work.

Between 2009 and 2013, 4037 people presented to Queensland emergency departments with an electrical related injury. Work related injuries accounted for 849 (21 per cent), with 199 (23 per cent) of these occurring in remote and regional areas.

Between July 2015 and December 2018, 91 serious electrical incidents were notified to the Electrical Safety Office. Nine of these occurred on a rural property.

In 2015, a roofing company was fined $50,000 after pleading guilty to failing to meet its electrical safety obligations.

A worker fixed a metal roofing sheet in place using a steel screw, which penetrated the live conductor of the mains cable. The screw acted as an electrical bridge to the metal roof making it live (energised).

The other workers did not realise the roof was energised and began climbing down the ladder. While one of these workers was climbing down, he made contact with the gutter and received a serious electric shock. The first worker reacted by grabbing the other and the ladder in an attempt to push the ladder away from the roof.

He also received an electric shock and fell to the ground. The ladder and the other worker fell to the ground, sustaining a cardiac arrest, five fractured ribs, a serious laceration to his hand and a collapsed lung. The first worker sustained an electric shock but no injury.