EnergyAustralia fined $1.5 million after Yallourn power plant worker’s death

EnergyAustralia has been fined $1.5 million after a veteran Yallourn power station employee suffered fatal burns in an electrical explosion.

Graeme Edwards had worked at the power station for more than 30 years when he agreed to connect a high-voltage cable.

The racking-in procedure involved placing a high-voltage circuit-breaker into position in a cabinet while wires were live or energised.

Edwards was fully trained and had undergone his required retraining two months before his death in November 2018.

An infill panel above the 6.6-kilowatt control panel he was working on was loose, exposing him to live wires at the slightest pressure.

As he worked on the unit on November 12, an arc-flash and explosion happened while he was racking-in, believed to be the result of the control cable touching live components.

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

EnergyAustralia Yallourn pleaded guilty to three charges of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company admitted failing to properly install and inspect the infill panel, failing to properly train employees to connect the cables, and failing to provide and require employees to wear appropriate arc-rated personal protective equipment while they worked on circuit-breakers on live high-voltage switchboards.

“There is absolutely no excuse for it,” the company admitted during a pre-sentence hearing last year.

“It was avoidable and it was preventable, and he shouldn’t have died. The reason why he died is due to the failings on the part of EnergyAustralia.”

Edwards was wearing cotton overalls, which one expert described as manifestly inadequate.

Appropriate arc-rated PPE, which had been provided to workers at a sister-company, provided thermal protection and was self-extinguishing, Victorian County Court judge John Carmody said on Monday.

EnergyAustralia’s manual also said the so-called elephant’s-trunk cable should be connected before the racking-in procedure was completed, but employees commonly connected it afterwards.

The inconsistencies between the manual, the training and the company’s procedures were a further breach of the law, the judge said.

He noted there was no evidence Edwards was carrying out his duties incorrectly, adding that co-workers described him as a helpful and respected colleague who always followed procedure.

EnergyAustralia has made significant changes in the past four years, many directed at the issues that caused Edwards’ death, the court heard.

“It raises the question, why wasn’t all this done before November 2018?” the judge said.

The cost of fixing or replacing the panel was minimal, he said.

He noted EnergyAustralia created a picnic area at the power plant and established a scholarship at Federation University in Edwards’ name.

Source: The Age

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