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Worker who suffers electric shock loses both arms below the elbow

The Case

SafeWork NSW v Simos Scaffolding Pty Ltd (2021)

Simos Scaffolding Pty Ltd (Simos) conducts a business providing scaffolding services at construction sites. Simos was engaged to supply, erect and dismantle perimeter scaffolding at a site where a multi-storey 15-unit assisted living apartment building was being built.

On 6 November 2018, a labourer was installing a steel bar into the wall cavity by standing on the scaffolding deck, when the bar protruded and made contact with the high-voltage powerlines, causing serious injuries to his hands and forearms, resulting in the amputation of both arms below the elbow.

The Verdict

The Court found that Simos failed to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or minimise the risk of suffering serious injury or death as a result of electric shock while working on a scaffold that was in unsafe proximity to live overhead high-voltage powerlines. The Court found that Simos should have complied with the available guidance material and undertaken a risk assessment to determine the risk of a person coming within an unsafe distance of the powerlines.

Simos pleaded guilty to breaching section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) in exposing the worker to the risk of suffering serious injury or death. Simos was ordered to pay a fine of $150,000 following a 25% reduction for entering a guilty plea. Simos was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s costs.

The Lessons

Companies must take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of their workers when working near powerlines. It is important that companies strictly comply with the requirements contained within applicable codes of practice. In the case of high-risk construction work, it is necessary to complete a written risk assessment and ensure there is a safe work method statement in place that manages the risk.

Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.

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