In December 2018, a mother and her daughter were electrocuted on a rural property after contacting a length of electric fencing type wire that was energised. The electric fencing wire was run from the bull bar of a truck to a tree stump on the property.
Early investigations indicate that a damaged extension cord which had an exposed a section of copper wire made the metal parts of the truck live at 240v A.C. This included the bull bar and a hook connected to electric fencing type wire. The extension cord was plugged into a socket outlet supplying the battery charger, charging the battery system inside the truck. The circuit was not protected by a safety switch (RCD), but by a rewireable fuse using copper wire instead of correctly rated fuse wire. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Electrical incidents on rural properties can often be caused by a failure to maintain electrical equipment as well as unlicensed electrical work. All rural workplaces have electrical risks and these risks increase if you use equipment in a wet environment or expose it to harsh wear. Remember too that electricity can sometimes flow through objects which would normally be regarded as poor conductors, such as trees or machinery.
Electrical risks include using:
- plug-in electrical equipment in an unroofed area or wet area (such as a hose down area)
- personally supported electrical equipment (handheld or carried) if the electricity supply cord is subject to flexing while the equipment is being used
- plug-in electrical equipment that is exposed to environmental factors (such as corrosive or other damaging dusts (like metal dust), or corrosive chemicals in the air) that cause abnormal wear or deterioration.
You must ensure that leads including extension cord sets and flexible cables are arranged so they will not be damaged. A cord extension set means an assembly of a:
- three-pin plug intended for connection to a socket outlet
- sheathed flexible cord
- cord extension socket.
For example, avoid running leads across the floor or ground, through doorways and over sharp edges, and use lead stands or insulated cable hangers to keep leads off the ground. Visually checking and inspecting extension cord sets regularly is a good policy to follow.
Certain types of electrical equipment known as 'specified electrical equipment' must be protected or inspected and tested. Specified electrical equipment for rural industry work includes:
- a cord extension set with a current rating of not more than 20 amps
- a portable outlet device such as a power board with a current rating of not more than 20 amps
- electrical equipment other than a portable safety switch that has a current rating of not more than 20 amps and is connected by a flexible cord and plug to low voltage supply - examples include small compressors, vacuum cleaners, electric drills.
Specified electrical equipment to be used for work where an electrical risk factor exists must be connected to a safety switch, or be inspected and tested at least annually by a competent person.
Safety switches are a good way of reducing the risk to people from electric shock. However they only protect people if they operate instantly when an electrical fault occurs. Failure to test a switch regularly means you don't know if it still works or not—the switch's movement may become stiff with age or corrosion.
You should visually examine electrical equipment to see whether power points, light fittings, switchboards, wiring and other electrical equipment are undamaged and in operational condition. If you find any problems, or suspect something is not electrically safe, you should quarantine the damaged equipment or engage a licensed electrical contractor or an employee who is a licensed electrician.
Pay particular attention to the following:
- electrical cables and conduits
- electrical accessories (e.g. power points)
- other electrical equipment (e.g. light fittings, pumps or electrical cabinets)
- handheld electrical equipment (e.g. drills or circular saws) – these devices should be visually examined prior to connection to electricity.
Each year around 325 accepted workers' compensation claims involve a worker contacting electricity. On average one of these involves a fatality, while 10 per cent result in a serious injury requiring five days or more off work. Since 1 July 2013, we have issued 472 statutory notices for electrocutions or electric shocks in the workplace.
Between 2009 and 2013, 4037 people presented to Queensland emergency departments with an electrical related injury. Work related injuries accounted for 849 (21 per cent), with 199 (23 per cent) of these occurring in remote and regional areas. If you live in remote or regional areas your nearest hospital may be hours away, so prevention through equipment maintenance and working safety around electricity is the best policy.
Between July 2015 and December 2018, 91 serious electrical incidents were notified to the Electrical Safety Office. Nine of these occurred on a rural property.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2015, a roofing company was fined $50,000 after pleading guilty to failing to meet its electrical safety obligations.
A worker fixed a metal roofing sheet in place using a steel screw, which penetrated the live conductor of the mains cable. The screw acted as an electrical bridge to the metal roof making it live (energised).
The other workers did not realise the roof was energised and began climbing down the ladder. While one of these workers was climbing down, he made contact with the gutter and received a serious electric shock. The first worker reacted by grabbing the other and the ladder in an attempt to push the ladder away from the roof. He also received an electric shock and fell to the ground. The ladder and the other worker fell to the ground, sustaining a cardiac arrest, five fractured ribs, a serious laceration to his hand and a collapsed lung. The first worker sustained an electric shock but no injury.
- Electrical safety Code of Practice 2010 - Electrical equipment rural industry (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.25 MB)
- Electrical Safety Regulation 2013
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)