Employers to pay $85K over safety failure

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Two major utility firms have been ordered to pay more than $85,000 in fines and compensation after a trainee electrician sustained serious burns while on the job.

Jay House and a second Northpower employee were performing maintenance work on roadside transformers when a bracket fell onto live equipment.

The contact caused an electric short and what is known as a flashover – or arc flash – leaving 20-year-old House with second-degree burns to his face, buttocks and upper thighs.

“I pulled the transformer off the panel and all I could hear was myself screaming and the flames and the arc flash,” House told Wellington District Court on Thursday.

"All I could feel was intense heat and there was me, running for my life,” he added.

A subsequent WorkSafe investigation uncovered numerous mistakes, including a failure to shut off power prior to maintenance work, not documenting hazard assessments in one place, and providing a plan that lacked clear instructions to stop work if employees encountered increased risks or unexpected conditions.

“Incidents such as this should not happen,” said says WorkSafe’s chief inspector, Keith Stewart. “Working near live components is a well-known hazard in the industry, and risks should be appropriately managed to protect the workers,”

Both Northpower and Wellington Electricity – which contracted out the work – admitted intentionally or negligently causing or permitting work to be done in a manner dangerous to life.

Judge Jan-Marie Doogue chose to fine Northpower $30,000 and Wellington Electricity $26,000.

House was also paid $20,000 in reparations after a restorative justice meeting earlier this year but Judge Doogue increased this to include additional reparation of $6,000 and $4,030, respectively.

Despite ongoing personal difficulties – including frequent panic attacks and daily pain – House told the court that he did not blame his employer for the accident.

“I, personally, don't put the blame on the higher up at Northpower. It was a shit thing that happened. You've just got to move on from it."

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