The defendant company held duties under s.30 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002. It conducts a business comprising several avocado farms. Approximately 44,500 avocado trees are planted across 13 paddocks.
During the picking and packing season, the defendant employs up to 40 casual staff. Avocado trees are pruned after the fruit is harvested. The defendant engages the services of an external tree hedging contractor to prune trees at a height of 5.5 metres and to square off the sides of the tree.
Once the trees are hedged by the contractor, additional tree pruning is done by workers engaged by the defendant. The workers are required to access the high parts of the trees to cut out limbs and branches from the tree centre.
To do this, a three-wheeled mobile elevating work platform (EWP) known as a “hydralada” is used. The front two wheels are hydraulically driven with the rear wheel trailing as a jockey wheel. The pruning is performed by the worker using a hydraulically driven cutting pole that has a chainsaw attachment at one end. The workers work alone in the EWP.
Three 22k high voltage power lines overhang the boundary of paddock seven. Before commencing work on 8 August 2016, two workers received a toolbox safety briefing reminding them of the presence of powerlines at the end of the rows and a warning to be careful. The next day, 9 August 2016, they resumed pruning and were reminded again of the powerlines. The practice adopted to avoid the electric lines, was to lower the boom of the hydralada to one metre before traversing around the end tree to the next row. One worker noticed that the other was approaching the powerlines but had not lowered his hydralada. The worker glanced back and saw the other worker slumped back in the still elevated work platform, which moved forward under the powerlines. The worker observed the other worker come into contact with the powerline and the hydralada continued forward becoming bogged with its wheels still spinning, indicating that his foot was still depressing the drive pedal. The worker was pronounced life extinct by paramedics on site.
On 28 September 2018, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Cairns Magistrates Court to breaching s.40C of the Electrical Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its electrical safety duties.
On 23 November 2018 Magistrate Kevin Priestly delivered his decision and fined the defendant $200,000 and ordered professional and court costs totalling $1596.55. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.
In reaching a decision, Magistrate Priestly found the likelihood of harm was obvious and there were simple steps available to reduce the risk (do not operate plant close to the power lines) and those steps were not burdensome. His Honour found the object seriousness was mid-range.
In considering the mitigating features and deciding penalty, the Court acknowledged the plea of guilty, no previous convictions and a good safety record. His Honour accepted the defendant is an excellent corporate citizen, cooperating extensively with the investigation process and demonstrating significant support of the local community and the good character of its directors.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
When working in the farming industry where there is exposure to risks from electrocution, duty holders should consider the following:
- Electrical Safety Act 2002
- Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (section 68 & Schedule 2 Part 2)
- Electrical safety Code of Practice 2010 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB) (chapter 3)
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing
- Date of offence:
- Cairns Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Kevin Priestly
- s.30 of the duty under s.40C Electrical Safety Act 2002
- Decision date:
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: