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Australian utility fined $1.5 million for “preventable” death of worker

14 February 2023

Energy retailer and generator EnergyAustralia has been fined AUD$1.5 million (£860,000) after an employee at the Yallourn power station in Latrobe Valley, Victoria suffered fatal injuries from an electrical explosion in November 2018.

Image: Wikimedia/User: Marcus Wong Wongm
Image: Wikimedia/User: Marcus Wong Wongm

The fine was imposed following a hearing at the County Court of Victoria. The court heard how Unit Controller Graeme Edwards, who had worked at the power station for over 30 years, had volunteered to install a high-voltage circuit breaker at the Yallourn site on 12 November 2018. Edwards was fully trained to conduct the work and had even undergone retraining just two months before the incident.

However, during the installation of the circuit breaker, an infill panel near to where Edwards was working on a control panel was loose and exposed him to live wiring. During his work, an arc flash occurred, thought to be as a result of a control cable making contact with live components.

Edwards suffered burns to 90% of his body and died in hospital the next day.

EnergyAustralia pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and admitted it had failed to properly install, inspect, and maintain the fault infill panel. The utility also admitted to failing to properly train employees to connect the cables and failing to provide employees appropriate arc-rated personal protective equipment (PPE) while they conducted work on circuit breakers.

The judge at the hearing said that there was no evidence of Edwards carrying out his duties incorrectly and that he had been described by colleagues as a respected colleague who always followed procedure.

Following the sentence, EnergyAustralia expressed its deep regret at the events. Newly appointed EnergyAustralia Operations and Projects Executive Michael Hutchinson, who attended Court along with several senior EnergyAustralia executives, said: “EnergyAustralia offers its deepest sympathies to Graeme’s family, friends and workmates and we acknowledge the impact that Graeme’s death has had.

“Since the events of November 2018, we have put in place a series of additional safety procedures and improvements at the station to ensure there can be no repeat of this tragic incident. EnergyAustralia has also shared safety improvements with other power station operators to ensure we all learn the lessons of this tragic incident.”

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