Demolition company fined $25,000 over live power line incident

19 June 2017

A demolition company was convicted and fined $25,000 over an incident at Phillip Island in which an excavator pulling down a house collided with live overhead power lines.

Bittern company Budget Demolition & Recyclers Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Korumburra Magistrates Court last week to one charge of failing to provide and maintain safe systems of work. It was also ordered to pay costs of $5221.

The court heard that on 12 February 2015, the company was using an excavator to demolish a house at Cowes. Because the worker operating the excavator was not licenced to use the machine, he was supervised by the owner of the business and spotted by other workers.

As the worker used the excavator bucket to pull down guttering at the front of the house, it struck overhead power lines. The worker heard a loud bang and saw a blue flash so he shut down the machine and got out. He was not injured in the incident.

The court heard that the company failed to prepare a Safe Work Method Statement for demolition before work commenced, failed to ensure the work was performed in accordance with that statement and failed to obtain a permit for the work.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Marnie Williams said inspectors were stunned by the company’s lack of basic safety knowledge, which put employees and the public at serious risk of injury.

“Demolition work is considered high risk and appropriate safe systems are required for a reason,” Ms Williams said. “The fact that the employer told inspectors he didn’t have a SWMS and didn’t really know what that was is mind boggling.”

Ms Williams said while the majority of demolition companies followed the rules, a small number put workers and the public at risk by failing to follow basic safety procedures.

“It is a tragic reality that when a demolition goes wrong the consequences for workers or the public, such as crush injuries, falling objects and exposure to hazardous substances, can be serious, or even fatal,” she said.

“This incident could easily have been a fatality, with a family left to mourn someone who didn’t get home safely.

“If you are running a business in Victoria, you have responsibilities for the safety of your workers and members of the public. We will not tolerate businesses who are putting people’s lives in danger.”

Demolition risks that must be controlled include:

  • Isolating services such as power, water and gas
  • Ensuring asbestos has been identified and removed before demolition begins
  • Making sure the site is secure
  • Using protective structures and exclusion zones to protect the public and prevent falling objects landing outside the site
  • Traffic management
  • Working at height
  • Structural stability at every stage of the process to prevent unplanned collapses

Members of the public who have safety concerns about demolition sites should phone the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.

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