The Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Act) applies to Queensland farms and other rural businesses. Under the Act, a person conducting a business owes a primary duty of care to ensure the electrical safety of their workers. Duties are also owed by officers of the business and other workers.
If the Act is breached, significant financial penalties can follow. In the case of “reckless” conduct, the person can be criminally responsible and face five years imprisonment.
A recent Magistrates Court decision, Guilfoyle v Wicks  QMC 11, reinforces the need for farmers and rural businesses to comply with legislation in this area.
Guilfoyle v Wicks  QMC 11
In this case, a farmer and his employee were operating an auger. The auger came into contact with a high voltage powerline that ran overhead between two grain silos. The farmer and his employee were electrocuted and suffered serious and permanent injuries.
The Magistrate found that the farmer had breached the electrical safety duty owed to his employee and exposed the employee to risk of death or serious injury or illness, pursuant to section 40C of the Act.
The Magistrate found that the existing caution stickers on the auger were insufficient safety measures. It was held that the farmer did not have an exclusion zone or a code of practice in place that would satisfy the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 and the Electrical Safety Code of Practice of 2010.
The Magistrate noted the maximum applicable penalty, in this case, was $300,000. However, after considering mitigating factors, the farmer was ordered to pay an amount of $16,000.
What steps can you take to avoid a breach?
Any workplace owes a primary duty of care to ensure their business is conducted in a way that is electrically safe.
Farmers must ensure that:
- all equipment used in the farm is electrically safe
- if electrical work is performed on the farm, ensure the electrical safety of all workers and property likely to be affected by the electrical work
- people working on the farm who come into contact with, or are near to, exposed parts, are electrically safe.
To minimise the electrical risk, the following measures can be put in place:
- ensuring an appropriate exclusion zone exists within the vicinity of a high voltage power line
- providing information, training and instruction to staff regarding electrical safety
- providing supervision where appropriate.
This article was originally published in Queensland Country Life (Australia).