Energy Australia fined $1.5 million after worker’s death

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Electricity gen-tailer Energy Australia has been fined $1.5 million after a Yallourn power station employee suffered fatal burns to 90% of his body in an electrical explosion at the facility in November 2018.

Graeme Edwards, 54, died in hospital a day after he sustained severe burns in an arc flash and explosion that occurred while he was racking a 6.6 kV circuit breaker in a high voltage switch room that was being returned to service after a planned major outage.

The Melbourne County Court heard the incident likely occurred when a control cable being held by Edwards made contact with live components of the circuit breaker.

Investigations found that an infill panel on the switchboard cabinet that was supposed to protect workers from contact with the arc flash had not been secured properly.

Energy Australia Yallourn Pty Ltd was fined $1.5 million in relation to Edwards’ death, which the company conceded at a plea hearing was “avoidable” and “preventable.”

“There is absolutely no excuse for it,” the company said during a 2022 pre-sentence hearing. “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 Energy Australia.”

The power station operator pleaded guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company was fined $700,000 for failing to provide and maintain plant that was safe and without risks to health, $300,000 for failing to provide information, instruction and training, and $500,000 for failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work.

Melbourne County Court Judge John Carmody said if the company had not pleaded guilty, it could have been fined a total of $2.2 million.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the devastating loss of Edwards was compounded by the fact that his death was preventable.

“WorkSafe hopes there is a degree of comfort to Mr Edwards’ family, friends and work mates knowing that the many learnings from this tragedy will go a long way to help prevent similar incidents in the future,” Beer said.

“Today’s outcome is a reminder to duty holders of the potential costs of failing to ensure workers are protected from health and safety risks.”

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