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Prosecution Details

Defendant Goldfields Contractors WA Pty Ltd
Section 19(1) and 19(7)
Offence Date Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Description of Breach(es)

Being an employer, failed to provide and maintain, so far as was practicable, a working environment in which its employees were not exposed to hazards and by that contravention caused the death of an employee; contrary to sections 19(1) and 19(7) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.

Background Details

The defendant was the main contractor for a road works project to extend Hepburn Avenue between Giralt Road and Mirrabooka Avenue in Madeley. The defendant was engaged to do all of the work including road construction, kerbing, storm water drainage, road markings, road signage and street lighting. In turn the defendant engaged another company on a subcontract basis to install street lighting for the project.

On 11 December 2002, the deceased and other employees of the subcontractor were working at the site. Preparatory work had been done for the installation of streetlights at the site. The holes for the streetlights had been dug, the poles had been positioned around the site near the holes and the various components of the streetlights had been assembled. Between 11.30am and 11.45am a vehicle loading crane operator employed by another company arrived at the site to lift the street lights into position. On arrival the crane operator was directed by the subcontractor to set up the vehicle loading crane ("the Hiab") at the corner of Hepburn Avenue and Bellerive Road to install the first pole ("the pole").

The pole was approximately 12.5 metres long and with the curved outreach extended to 14.5 metres in total length. The pole was to be installed into a hole with dimensions of approximately 1.6 metres by 2.9 metres wide and 2.2 metres deep. The pole weighed 210 kilograms. The hole had been dug the day before by the deceased. Above the hole were overhead powerlines comprising three live conductors. The powerlines were 13.17 metres above the ground in respect of the red phase conductor, which was the lowest in height of the three live conductors. The overhead powerlines were high voltage lines being 132,000 volts.

The crane operator set up the Hiab near the hole. The operator set out the crane slings into a configuration to lift the pole and then laid out the crane sling assembly adjacent to the pole. The pole was lying parallel with Hepburn Avenue towards Wanneroo Road with the base of the pole approximately 2 metres away from the hole. The foreman ("the foreman") of the subcontractor then attached the sling assembly to the pole.

The crane operator operated the Hiab to raise the pole into position. The foreman was holding onto the pole to steady it and control its direction. The crane operator was in control of the Hiab standing on the driver's side of the truck at the crane operator's position. The crane operator fully extended the Hiab's boom to its maximum length of 10.3 metres to lift the pole off the ground. The pole was eventually lifted off the ground. The crane operator was slewing the Hiab's boom and lifting until the pole was vertical and either over the hole or at the edge of the hole. As the pole was raised into an almost vertical position the single outreach and light head section of the pole tended to rotate towards the overhead powerlines. The pole was hot, having been lying in the sun and the foreman had difficulty controlling the spin of the pole to keep it away from the overhead powerlines. The crane operator handed the foreman a pair of leather gloves and at this point the deceased was also holding onto the pole as the foreman put on the gloves.

Soon after this the pole was being lowered into the hole with the crane operator retracting the Hiab's boom approximately 1 metre. At this moment the head section of the pole rotated and made contact with the red phase electrical electrical conductor. Witnesses heard two explosions and observed flashes of light travelling down the pole and the slings immediately after the pole made contact with the powerlines. This resulted in an electrical current travelling in parallel paths down the pole and down the boom of the vehicle of the Hiab earthing through the truck tyres and through the deceased, the foreman and the crane operator. Western Power records indicate that the pole made contact with the overhead power line at approximately 12.05pm. The deceased received an electric shock and was thrown into the hole. The deceased could not be revived and was pronounced dead a short time later. The foreman was thrown to the ground, landing on the road between the truck and the hole. He received second and third degree burn injuries to his back and right shoulder and severe injuries to his left leg which subsequently resulted in partial amputation. The crane operator was thrown away from the truck, landing on his feet. The crane operator received an electrick shock with an entry wound in his right ankle and exit wound in his right calf.

The defendant had management and control of the site and this was exercised through its project manager and site supervisor. The defendant had a safety manual which included a safe working procedure for work being done in the vicinity of overhead powerlines. The procedure required preliminary steps to be taken including contacting Western Power to determine the voltage and insulation requirements of the powerlines, identifying the danger zone of the powerlines, undertaking a hazard analysis and job safety analysis, and finally having a pre-start meeting to explain the job safety analysis to all personnel involved. This policy was not communicated to the foreman or its employees by the defendant prior to the accident nor did the defendant take any steps to ensure that the policy was followed before and during the installation of the pole. The defendant did not make any arrangements with Western Power for the overhead powerlines to be isolated, insulated or de-energised before work commenced in the vicinity of those powerlines, nor did it ensure that such arrangements were made.

The defendant was convicted after the case proceeded under section 136AA of the Justices Act 1906.

Outcome Summary Convicted
Conviction Date 13 Dec 2004
Court Perth Court of Petty Sessions
Fine $150,000
Costs $1,000