The defendant grew and sold mangoes from a property comprising approximately 32,000 trees. He held duties under s.30 of the Electrical Safety Act 2011 as a trustee for the trust that controlled the business.
The defendant used a labour hire company to provide seasonal mango pickers for the business. Mango picking at the plantation is undertaken by teams of five or six who are assigned a range of duties, including:
- driving a tractor
- one or two are equipped with 'picking sticks' stand on an elevated trailer mounted work platform towed by the tractor
- one washes the fruit
- any others remain on the ground and are also equipped with picking sticks.
Picking sticks comprise an aluminium pole varying in length from 1.35 metres to 3.4 metres. At one end of the pole is a metal hoop with a string net for catching mangoes as they are plucked from the trees.
On 18 November 2015, two Chinese nationals with limited English speaking skills were engaged as mango pickers and working in a team of five. One was standing on the platform and one was at the rear washing the fruit. The trees were located directly under a high voltage Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) uninsulated power line. The picker standing on the platform made contact with the SWER line with the picking stick. The trailer served as a shock pathway, which caused the injury to the other picker washing fruit. The workers both received electrical burns requiring hospitalisation, skin grafts and ongoing therapy for mobility and pain management.
The farm manager stated that a two hour induction is provided for workers. Both the workers deny being warned of the presence of any overhead electrical wires.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court on 22 February 2018 to breaching s.40(c) of the Electrical Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet his work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Cathy Wadley fined the defendant $35,000 and ordered professional and court costs totalling $964.40. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.
In reaching a decision, Magistrate Wadley took into account that the defendant should have undertaken a proper assessment of the hazards on the property and was not entitled to rely on labour hire contractors or energy providers to advise him of the risks associated with the SWER line.
The penalty imposed in relation to this offence must provide for general deterrence. The magistrate acknowledged the aggravation of significant physical, mental and emotional harm, and additionally considered the victim impact statement.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Wadley reduced the penalty imposed from $40,000 to $35,000 having regard to mitigating features. She took into account the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, co-operated with the investigation, showed significant remorse and entered a timely plea of guilty.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
When working in the Agriculture industry where there is exposure to risks from electrical shock, duty holders should consider the following:
- Electrical Safety Act 2002
- Electrical Safety Regulation 2013
- Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2010 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB)
- Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2010 – Electrical equipment rural industry (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing
- Date of offence:
- Electrical burns
- Townsville Magistrates Court
- Cathy Wadley
- s.40(c) of the duty under s.30 Electrical Safety Act 2002
- Decision date:
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: