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Apprentice hospitalised in arc flash incident

A NSW refrigeration and air conditioning company has been fined $150,000 and its sole director fined $15,000 after a 21-year-old apprentice was hospitalised after an arc flash incident.

The NSW District Court heard a 21-year-old, fourth-year apprentice air conditioning technician, and a 15-year-old, first year apprentice air conditioning technician, were tasked with repairing an electrical fault at the air conditioning unit at a Campbelltown KFC.

The company and the director pleaded guilty to failing to comply with their health and safety duties and exposing workers to a risk of death or serious injury.

On October 11, 2017, the company sent a technician to the KFC to diagnose a fault with the store’s air conditioning.

 

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The electrical fault had earlier been identified by a technician, who was not an electrician. A ‘work solution’ was prepared to replace a three-phase circuit breaker, contactors, and overloads. This was communicated to the director and the company service operations manager.

The technician had planned to repair the unit but was sick on that day.

Instead, the service operations manager allocated the job to a 21-year-old fourth year apprentice, and a 15-year-old first year apprentice.

The KFC store duty manager requested that the two not turn off the store’s power. The company had directed the older apprentice to turn off live installations before working on them, but he began work on the main switchboard without isolating power considering the store manager’s request to leave the power on.

He had never worked on a main switchboard before.

The 21-year-old removed the faulty three-phase circuit breaker from the main switchboard but found the purchased replacement was the wrong size. He attempted to manipulate the busbar terminals to allow it to fit. In doing this, the tip of the steel pliers contacted live power and created an arc flash explosion.

 

 

He was temporarily blinded and transported to hospital where he required skin grafts to treat burns to his exposed hands and all his fingers. He was not wearing protective gloves or goggles but was wearing a long sleeve jumper which insulated his arms, long pants, and safety boots.

The first-year apprentice had been standing behind the older apprentice. He sustained no physical injuries due to his distance from the arc flash but was in shock.

The company had procedures in places at the time of the incident and an on-site procedure to isolate mains and follow directions.

But there was no safe work method statement or comprehensive work health and safety management plan that would have ensured apprentices not be allocated to work they were unqualified for.

The company did not employ a qualified electrician at the time.

Despite this the director continued to engage the company in electrical work despite not having an electrician on the books.

The company relied on the service operations manager, who was not qualified to carry out electrical, refrigeration or air conditioning work, to quote jobs, order parts and allocate tasks to workers. He quoted the job aware that work would be needed on the main switchboard.

The court heard the company had not ensured the 21-year-old had the necessary qualifications to perform electrical work, nor did they provide adequate supervision to him. Similarly, he was not qualified to supervise the 15-year-old apprentice.

The director did not provide the company with supervision, qualifications, and up-to-date knowledge of WHS matters or industry guidelines. He directed that work was allocated to apprentices who were not qualified or experienced to carry it out without supervision.

The court heard the decision to have unqualified people carry out the electrical work was “not by chance” as the technician who inspected the KFC was unqualified to do electrical work and he would have carried out the job if he were not sick.

The company was fined $150,000, and the director $15,000 for the offences. They have been ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs worth $55,000.

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