Workers electrocuted and hospitalised after crane contacts powerlines

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 26 September, 2019 - 11:00
Incidents & prosecutions

A worker was electrocuted while another suffered serious injuries and a third required hospital treatment following an incident in Queensland in which a mobile crane contacted overhead powerlines.

Queensland’s Electrical Safety Office (ESO) and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) are investigating the incident.

WHSQ said contact with overhead or underground powerlines can be fatal.

“You don’t need to come in direct contact with powerlines to receive an electric shock, electricity can ‘flashover’ or arc across air gaps,” it said.

“All powerline voltages are lethal, with the risk of flashover increasing as the powerline voltage rises.”

Since 2010, there have been nine fatalities in Queensland resulting from plant or equipment contact (or near contact) with overhead powerlines.

Three resulted from crane contact, two were elevated work platforms, while the others involved a farm spray rig, tree pruning pole, agricultural irrigation pipe and billboard edging.

A Queensland billboard company was recently fined $250,000 after a worker received an electric shock from a powerline that the company knew was a hazard and which was closer than the three-metre exclusion zone required under state law.

A worker employed by the defendant received an electric shock from a 33kV overhead powerline while changing the skin on an advertising sign in 2016.

The Magistrate noted that the degree of harm that might result from electric shock from the power line was death or severe injury and given the nature of the work and the limited training provided to workers, the likelihood or risk from electric shock was high.

He also said there were available and suitable ways to eliminate the risk of electric shock, but the company made no effort to contact Ergon Energy to request the powerline be moved or raised.

It was also noted the cost of eliminating the risk was relatively minor, especially in proportion to the risk involved.

Government inspectors can now issue on the spot fines of up to $600 for an individual and $3,000 to businesses who breach exclusion zones, fail to identify risks and don’t implement appropriate control measures.