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Queensland energy supplier fined $300,000 after powerline fatality


1 November 2023

A Queensland-based energy supplier has been fined $300,000 in a decision handed down last week in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court.

The energy supplier pleaded guilty to a Category 2 offence for failing to ensure an overhead powerline and its supporting structures spanning farmland were safe. A power pole in the field was kept vertical by a number of stay wires, each of which were separately attached to the ground. There were guards at the bottom of each stay wire obscuring a portion of it.

The power pole was inspected in late September 2020, during which corrosion was noted and given a Priority 3 rating, meaning it did not require rectification within a particular time frame. Ten months later, employees were working underneath the overhead powerline with a harvester when the top of it either contacted or came very close to the powerline.

One worker was electrocuted and died, and another five received electric shocks and were hospitalised.

The charge arose out of a failure by the defendant to have a system of routine visual inspection of the entire length of the stay wires, including the portions covered by the guards. One of two stay wires became corroded and broke, allowing the power pole to shift and the powerline to drop. When the pole was straightened after the incident, the powerline height over the machinery rose more than three metres. The energy supplier subsequently amended its inspection process to require routine inspection of stay wires underneath the stay guard.

The court heard the defendant failed to ensure its works were electrically safe, its duty was fundamental, and its failure exposed an entire group of workers to serious risk, with a catastrophic outcome.

The magistrate acknowledged the seriousness of the offending and recognised that the loss to the deceased’s family must be unbearable, while noting that she was not required to apportion blame.

Her Honour accepted the defendant is a good corporate citizen and had expressed sincere remorse. She took into consideration a number of significant mitigating features, including early and ongoing cooperation, and an early plea of guilty.

A fine of $300,000 was imposed, together with costs of $1,601.40.

Please note that, pursuant to the Justices Act 1886 the applicable period for parties to appeal a decision in a summary matter is one month from the sentencing date (or in the case of indictable offences, pursuant to s671 of the Criminal Code, one calendar month).


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