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Small business and its director fined more than $40,000 for unsafe electrical practices

By

31 March 2020

After a hearing in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court recently, a small concreting business and its sole director have been fined a total of $42,500 for unsafe electrical practices,exposing people to risk of serious injury or death.

The business had been contracted to pour a concrete driveway and housing surrounds in Glenvale. Before the pour, the sole director hired an electrician to disconnect and later reconnect electricity to two air conditioning units. The business was subsequently ordered by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission to rectify defects in the concreting work, which required the same two air conditioning units to again be removed and electricity to them disconnected.

On or about 14 August 2017, and after unsuccessfully obtaining a licensed electrician to remove the air conditioners, the company director disconnected the electrical supply himself, removed the units and completed his concreting work. This constituted electrical work, for which he did not hold a license. In doing the work himself, the defendant left two sets of electrical supply wiring exposed and improperly terminated with duct tape placed around the end of the exposed wires for 24 to 48 hours. After that, he returned to the property and attempted to cover the wiring from one of the units.

There was no evidence to establish the wires were live at the time the director left the residence, although this could've happened via activation of the nearby isolator switch and the relevant circuit breaker in the switchboard. When an Electrical Safety Inspector visited the property on 20 October 2017, the circuit breakers in the main switchboard supplying both isolators were in the on position, although the isolator switches were off. This presented a risk of death or serious injury to any person who came into contact with the wiring.

In sentencing, Magistrate Kay Ryan took into account the need for general deterrence and the defendant was solely to blame for the offence, although fortunately there was no injury or death in this case. Magistrate Ryan also noted the defendant had no history of previous offending, had cooperated with the investigation and entered an early guilty plea. Her Honour took into consideration there was no evidence the wires were left in a live state and some efforts had been made by the defendant to reduce the risk. However, the steps that should have taken to minimize the risk was to get a licensed electrician to do the work.

Magistrate Ryan ruled this was at the lower end of the offending captured by Category 2 offences and took into account that the business only in existence at the time for prosecution and would “die a natural death” after court proceedings were completed. The company had been deregistered at the initiation of ASIC after the prosecution commenced and then reinstated at the application of the complainant. In light of this, her Honour determined the fine to be imposed would be not as high as it would have been if the company was still officially operating.

No conviction was recorded, with the business fined $35,000, plus legal and professional costs of almost $850.

In sentencing the company director, her Honour considered there was no evidence the wires were live and some efforts had been made by the defendant to reduce the risk. She noted the defendant knew he should not have done this work, he did not have an electrical license, and he has since left the concreting industry.

The business owner was fined $7,500, plus legal and professional costs of almost $850. No conviction was recorded.

More prosecutions are at worksafe.qld.gov.au

Media contact: oirmedia@oir.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00