By Edmund Burke, Partner Holding Redlich & Rosemary Deeb, Graduate, Holding Redlich
The Electrical Safety Act 2002 (the Act) aims to prevent death, injury and destruction to property caused by electricity. The Act applies to all workplaces in Queensland, including farms and other rural businesses.
Under the Act, a person conducting a business or undertaking owes a primary duty of care to ensure the electrical safety of their workers. Duties are also owed by officers of the business and other workers.
A person conducting a business can face significant financial penalties where they breach their electrical safety duty. Where reckless breaches occur, the person can be criminally responsible and face 5 years imprisonment.
A recent Magistrates Court decision, Guilfoyle v Wicks  QMC 11, reinforces the need for farmers and rural businesses to comply with legislation in this area.
Guilfoyle v Wicks  QMC 11
The case involved an auger being moved on a farm in Tara between two grain silos. The auger was used to load grain from trucks into silos. An uninsulated single wire earth return high voltage (12k Volt) powerline ran overhead between the two grain silos, at a height of approximately 7.2 meters.
The farmer was operating the hydraulic controls to move the auger and his employee, a 17 year old farm hand, was steering the auger at the rear. During the move, the auger came into contact with the overhead powerline, electrocuting and injuring both the farmer and his employee.
The Magistrate considered the safety measures that were put in place by the farmer. The auger itself had stickers that included written and visual warnings to keep clear of powerlines and look out for overhead powerlines.
However, the Magistrate found that the farmer did not have an exclusion zone or a code of practice in place that would satisfy the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 and the Electrical Safety Code of Practice of 2010.
The Magistrate found that the farmer breached the electrical safety duty owed to his employee and exposed the employee to risk of death or serious injury or illness, pursuant to section 40C of the Act.
The Magistrate noted the maximum penalty for breaching section 40C was $300,000.00. However, after considering mitigating factors, the Magistrate ordered the farmer pay an amount of $16,000.00.
What steps can you take to avoid a breach?
Any workplace owes a primary duty of care to ensure their business is conducted in a way that is electrically safe.
This means that farmers must ensure that:
- all equipment used in the farm is electrically safe;
- if electrical work is performed on the farm, ensuring the electrical safety of all persons and property likely to be affected by the electrical work; and
- ensuring persons performing work on the farm involving contact with, or being near to, exposed parts, are electrically safe.
To eliminate or minimise the electrical risk to a person or property on a farm, the following measures can be put in place:
- ensuring an appropriate exclusion zone exists within the vicinity of a high voltage power line;
- providing information, training and instruction to staff regarding electrical safety; and
- providing supervision where appropriate.
Holding Redlich are experts in the area of Workplace Relations & Safety. Should you have any workplace issues or concerns, contact Edmund Burke on 07 3135 0686 or firstname.lastname@example.org.