Warning on "off-the-shelf" safety systems

Public news

A company and its director have been convicted and fined, and issued WHS project and training orders, over the electrocution of an unsupervised apprentice, in a unique case.

The 34-year-old fourth-year apprentice electrician was killed when he touched a live wire while he and another apprentice were working unsupervised on the roof of the Tennant Creek fire station in the Northern Territory in February 2019.

Their employer, Ridem Pty Ltd, trading as Dexter Barnes Electrical, was subsequently charged with breaching section 19 ("Primary duty of care") of the Territory WHS Act, while Ridem's director, Russell O'Donnell, was charged with breaching section 27 ("Duty of officers") in failing to exercise due diligence to ensure his company complied with its WHS obligations.

Ridem and O'Donnell pleaded guilty and were convicted and fined $80,000 and $40,000 respectively in the Alice Springs Local Court last week.

In a first for the Northern Territory, the Court also ordered Ridem to fund a WHS project (an NT WorkSafe electrical safety campaign costing $40,000) under section 238 of the Act, while O'Donnell was ordered to complete due diligence and hazard identification and management training.

The Territory's Work Health and Safety Regulator Bill Esteves said the fatality could have been prevented if Ridem properly implemented its safety management system and properly trained and supervised the fourth-year apprentice.

"Apprentices and young workers are among the most vulnerable workers in the workplace, and it is important they receive the appropriate level of supervision and training, especially in high-risk industries such as electrical services," he said.

Alarmingly, Esteves said WorkSafe inspectors were increasingly encountering businesses that didn't implement their safety management systems or "purchased off-the-shelf systems which do not address risk and hazards faced by the business and its workers".

"Company directors should not think that they have met their work health and safety duties because they have purchased a system," he said.

"Directors must exercise due diligence and ensure the business complies with its WHS duties and obligations. In particular, directors must ensure safe systems of work are in place, and are effective, and verify that all workers are inducted and sufficiently trained to use and comply with the system."

If you have any concerns about the safety of your systems, click here to contact the MTA's WR team or call 8291 2000.