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Feedlot company fined $140,000 after telehandler operator electrocuted

A Wimmera feedlot operator has been convicted and fined $140,000 following the electrocution of a worker while operating a telehandler in 2020.

Harmony Operations Australia Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Horsham Magistrates’ Court today after pleading guilty to one charge of failing to provide and maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health and one charge of failing to provide necessary information and instruction to enable employees to work safely.

The company was also ordered to pay $6,890 in costs.

The court heard the 29-year-old worker was using a telehandler to stack hay bales at the Gerang Gerung property in November 2020 when the raised boom and bale lifting attachment made contact with overhead power lines.

Witnesses saw a flash from the telehandler’s back tyre before the worker jumped from the cab and suffered a fatal electric shock.

A WorkSafe investigation found that while workers were required to complete a verification of competence that included reading the company’s safe work procedure for the telehandler, this did not address the risk of coming into contact with overhead power lines.

The court found it was reasonably practicable for the company to have established a three-metre exclusion zone around the power line, to have identified the exclusion zone as part of its system of work and to have provided information and instruction about the exclusion zone to workers.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the fatality was an absolute tragedy that could have been avoided, with control measures available to guard against the risk of electrocution well known within the industry.

“This case is a heartbreaking reminder of what can happen when the risks of operating machinery near power lines are not safely managed,” Dr Beer said.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in; duty holders working near overhead power lines need to ensure they have safe systems of work in place and that workers receive the information and instruction they need to do the job safely.”

To avoid contact with power lines employers and contractors using trucks and other mobile plant should:

  • Identify all power lines on site and at site entrance or exit points.
  • Comply with the No-Go-Zone rules and spotter requirements when operating mobile plant around power lines.
  • Monitor weather conditions closely – power lines can sag in extreme heat and sway in strong winds.
  • Be aware that power lines are more difficult to see at dawn and dusk.
  • Designate travel paths, loading and unloading areas well away from power lines.
  • Install warning signs or other visual indicators on each side of the power line to warn operators and drivers.
  • Consider the type and height of heavy vehicles, plant and machinery and if it can safely operate near the power lines.
  • Induct drivers and operators in the risks of power lines on site, and the controls in place to prevent hitting the power lines.
  • If routinely working near power lines consider engineering controls such as presence sensing systems that can detect power lines and interlock plant movements.
  • Consult with workers on safe systems of work for operating near power lines.

Telescopic Handler Association (TSHA) CEO, James Oxenham, reminds PCBUs that Gold Card training material covers the associated risk of using telehandlers. “The TSHA training addresses the risk of electrocution from overhead power lines” he said. Distance from Powerlines Stickers are available at: www.tsha.com.au


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