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Company ordered to pay $140,000 fine in relation to electric shock fatality

An owner of a beef cattle feedlot, whose employee died when a telehandler struck overhead powerlines, was fined $140,000 in a Victorian case (WorkSafe Victoria v Harmony Operations Australia Pty Ltd) that demonstrates the very significant serious risk of electric shock.

On 12 November 2020, an employee of Harmony Operations Australia Pty Ltd was stacking hay bales on a flatbed truck at the workplace. To lift the hay bales, the employee was using a telehandler with a lifting attachment. A 22KV powerline runs through the 620-acre property located in Gerang Gerung.

Later in the day, the employee was operating the telehandler with its lifting attachment extended. The employee reversed and the lifting attachment touched the overhead powerlines. Another employee witnessed sparks and tried to communicate to the employee to remain in the telehandler cab. The employee did not hear and jumped from the cab to the ground. The employee sustained electrical shock and died at the scene.

A WorkSafe Victoria investigation established that Harmony Operations Australia did not have in place a system to reduce the risk of telehandlers hitting powerlines, including instructions and information to remain more than 3 metres away from the powerline.

Harmony Operations Australia pleaded guilty and was sentenced without conviction to pay a fine of $140,000.

The Court held that objective gravity of the offending was significant because the risk was well-known in the industry and could have easily been avoided, and there were potentially very serious consequences if the risk eventuated.

The victim impact statements were also considered at sentencing, which was taken to be evidence of what can happen if the risk eventuates.

The Court also considered that Harmony Operations Australia had no prior convictions and entered an early plea of guilty.

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