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January 2020

Coronial inquest into labourer’s electrocution

Coronial inquest into labourer’s electrocution

Inquest into the death of Jason Jon Garrels

Facts

In February 2012, 20-year-old Jason Jon Garrels, employed by Daytona Trading, was electrocuted while holding a temporary construction switchboard, which was being erected to comply with an electrical safety notice. The situation was compounded by heavy weather.

Other workers, including the electrical contractor Cold Spark Electrical Pty Ltd and its principal, Nathan Day, were busy filling trenches containing cables and moving switchboards into place on top of the trenches. Both Daytona and Cold Spark were prosecuted over the worker’s death.

Judgment

Some of the recommendations made by Coroner David O’Connell included:

(a) that Mr Day, the electrical contractor in charge of the project, be referred to the Queensland Police Service to investigate whether there was enough evidence to charge him under the Criminal Code;

(b) that the Director of Public Prosecutions investigate whether Mr Day can be charged with perjury over his evidence relating to the safety switch;

(c) that the Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland investigate whether any new charge can be laid against Mr Day (previous charges against him were dismissed) in relation to the construction wiring and stripping the main switchboard; and

(d) that Mr Day and Cold Spark be referred to the Electrical Licensing Committee to investigate whether:

(i) Mr Day had sufficient competency to remain a licensed electrician; and

(ii) the company had sufficient competency to remain a licensed electrical contractor.

Coroner O’Connell found the director’s experience prior to working on the construction site was limited to “fixing fans and domestic whitegoods”, and noted that he was “amazed” an electrician could “simply apply for an electrical contractor’s licence which allowed him to be the responsible electrician for the wiring of an 81-lot duplex subdivision”.

Lessons

When undertaking industrial and construction projects, it is essential that contractors are adequately licensed and experienced. The potential impact of ‘cutting corners’ on industrial sites far outweighs the cost of hiring suitable and highly skilled contractors.

This inquest highlights the failure of this licensing system and the need for all businesses to check the competency of any worker they engage. Simply holding a licence is not enough. As the coroner noted, “Clearly the government should examine, and review, the qualifications required to be obtained to allow persons to be the holder of an electrical contractor’s licence.”

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