Union agrees with safety switch calls after Victoria Point electrocution

RECOMMENDATIONS: Deputy state coroner John Lock last month said Matthew Trent Ross' life could have been saved if a safety switch – called a residual current device – had been installed. Photo: File
RECOMMENDATIONS: Deputy state coroner John Lock last month said Matthew Trent Ross' life could have been saved if a safety switch – called a residual current device – had been installed. Photo: File

THE Electrical Trades Union has supported calls by a coroner for tougher safety switch requirements and electrical safety laws after a carpenter was electrocuted at Victoria Point.

Matthew Trent Ross, 25, was killed in 2013 when a light fitting caused scaffolding he was touching to become live.

Deputy state coroner John Lock last month said Mr Ross’ life could have been saved if a safety switch – called a residual current device – had been installed on the light’s circuit.

“An RCD detects leakage of current to earth including through a person’s body and cuts the current supply in milliseconds and significantly reduces the risk of death or serious injury,” he said.

“This case raised the prospect of retrofitting RCDs in all domestic, industrial and commercial premises where they are not already fitted.

“The issue has been raised in other states and it has been claimed the costs on industry and households would be prohibitive.”

Mr Ross had been working to install guttering and fascia at the Adventist Aged Care Retirement Village when the light fitting was activated at dusk.

Other areas within the construction site had been electrically isolated but the light’s circuit had not been switched off as it was not within the refurbishment’s original scope of works.

“When the decision was made that the roof trusses would now need to be removed, further consideration should have been given as to whether there were any other electrical circuits that may be impacted,” Mr Lock said.

“I am not at all convinced or impressed by the semantic distinction given to whether this was ‘demolition’ or ‘disassembly’ work and requiring or not requiring an electrical isolation certificate to be obtained. 

“If semantics are that significant then perhaps there needs to be regulatory change as suggested by counsel for the family and KPM.”

An Electrical Trades Union spokesman the union supported the coroner’s recommendations for authorities to mandate that principal contractors obtain electrical isolation certificates, which included precise area, fittings and cabling details and lock-out and testing methods.

Another certificate would be needed if the original scope of work was changed.

“Isolation certificate is fine, as long as the electrical contractor has correctly isolated the completed area of works (sic),” the union spokesman said.

While the coroner also recommended the Electrical Safety Office reconsider ways to toughen up safety switch requirements, the ETU spokesman urged property owners to take urgent responsibility.

“The union supports any recommendation for the installation of safety switches,” the spokesman said. 

“The rollout should first target the domestic market (including) rental premises as well as schools and aged care.

“Whilst the government can make laws to make safety switches mandatory, owners of premises should also take the initiative and not wait for legislation but start having them installed now.

“Safety switches are designed to protect persons from electric shock and fatalities but correctly installed wiring systems are also important and must be installed to meet the requirements in the AS/NZS wiring rules.”

Coroner’s comments and recommendations:

“1) It is recommended the Electrical Safety Office reconsider the various options for the extension of the requirement for the mandatory fitting of residual current devices (including cost benefit analysis), and a draft discussion paper be circulated to key stakeholders and the public for consultation prior to finalisation of its policy position or advice to State Government. 

2) The Office of Industrial Relations in conjunction with the Electrical Safety Office review the circumstances of this case and consider if there should be amendments to the Demolition Work: Code of Practice 2013 and/or the Managing electrical risks in the workplace Code of Practice 2013 that mandate: 

 – An electrical isolation certificate be obtained by the principal contractor for any demolition or dismantling working in any building structure.

 – Further that any electrical isolation certificate should provide sufficient information (a plan may be one solution but there may be others) to identify the precise area that has been isolated, including any cabling and fittings which have been removed, and if there is any remaining cabling and fittings of the relevant area, as well as details of the method of isolation, including use of lockout and tag-out means and testing to prove de-energised protocols. 

 – That a further electrical isolation certificate be mandatory where there is any extension of the scope of demolition and dismantling work.”