An electrical worker died in the basket of a cherry picker with emergency services helplessly watching on below because his employer had not trained him in his new role, a coronial inquest has found.
Danny George Cheney, understood to be aged in his early 30s and originally from the Gold Coast, died in 2009 after being electrocuted while working on power lines between two supporting towers in north Queensland.
His colleague, who was also in the cherry picker basket, received four electric shocks as he tried to save his fellow worker, but survived his injuries.
A coroner found Mr Cheney and his team did not take the appropriate equipment with them to the worksite and the victim deviated from the Activity Method Statement (AMS), which was a detailed plan to carry out the work safely.
Mr Cheney and three colleagues were working on the lines between two towers west of Townsville on December 5 when the electrocution happened.
The victim had recently been promoted and transferred to a new project the month before and was still becoming familiar with his new task when tragedy struck.
The team had a meeting at their Ravenswood base before heading out to start work. As they prepared to set off, Mr Cheney did not say a word to his crew about making sure they had the appropriate equipment for the job.
This included hot sticks, earthing leads and hot gloves, which were available at their base and protect workers against electric shock.
Mr Cheney and his colleagues working on the power lines the day tragedy struck.
© Supplied Mr Cheney and his colleagues working on the power lines the day tragedy struck.
Upon arrival at the towers, Mr Cheney and colleague Macquin Parungao got into an elevated work platform (EWP) on the cherry picker, secured the safety harness lanyards to the EWP and were taken up to install spacers on the conductors, which were wires connecting two parallel lines.
“Instead of earthing the conductors to each tower at each end of the span, he (Mr Cheney) earthed the conductors to the elevated platform,” coroner Kevin Priestly wrote.
“He did so without a hot stick and with only one hot glove. Once the cart was suspended from the conductor with Mr Cheney positioned in it, the EWP was lowered.
“Mr Cheney started to disconnect the earths. While doing so, he was electrocuted.”
“Mr Parangao tried to remove the earthing clamp attached to the lanyard point of the EWPhowever it was difficult to grab the nut on the clamp with the hot glove. Mr Parangao received four electric shocks.
“He persisted in efforts to undo the clamp, and then held the cable in the centre of the basket to avoid contact with anything else.
“One end of the split earthing lead was hanging. Mr Parangao grabbed and held it apart fromthe other end of the earthing lead.”
The electric current had rendered the EWP useless and a medical helicopter could not rescue Mr Cheney due to nearby live conductors.
Fire crews waited for two hours on the ground below until a second cherry picker arrived and made the immediate work area safe. It was only then Mr Cheney was extracted from the basket and taken to Townsville Hospital, where he was declared dead.
“I find Mr Cheney was in the process of disconnecting the earths attached to the conductors when he was electrocuted,” Mr Priestly wrote.
“There is the possibility that his lanyard, on the lowering of the EWP, may have unexpectedly restricted his movement, complicating the task and distracting his attention while performing what was already a risky procedure with less than optimum protection.”
During his investigation, the coroner discovered the original plan was to use a helicopter to carry out the work, but it couldn’t reach all of the required lines to complete the job.
Mr Cheney had many responsibilities on the day he died, but made little or no preparation for the task ahead, which included not completing a risk assessment. He also did not ensure his team had the appropriate safety equipment.
The coroner said the project was behind schedule and ruled Mr Cheney must have been eager to start work, rather than be delayed completing “time-consuming” tasks.
In addition, the coroner said Mr Cheney had no formal qualifications or training in live transmission line work.
He may have received training about how to apply temporary earthing to the towers, but this was likely in the context of working on towers and not from an EWP.
The coroner also attacked two separate investigations into the incident, one of which was conducted by the victim’s employer John Holland.
He said the inquiries did not fully explore why Mr Cheney did not comply with the AMS and also failed to identify the victim’s knowledge gap.
However, in fairness to John Holland, the coroner noted that the company had taken immediate remedial action after Mr Cheney’s death.
This included introducing a permit-to-work regime in respect of earthing, provided voltage detection equipment to check the effectiveness of earthing, reviewed their AMS and provided additional training to workers on earthing and bonding.
In summary, the coroner ruled that while the victim made fatal mistakes, these could be blamed on a gap in his knowledge, caused by a lack of appropriate training and knowledge of his new role.
“Mr Cheney deviated from the requirement in the AMS, likely due to a number of operational factors but most importantly because of a gap in his knowledge about the difference between earthing and bonding, and the circumstances in which each is applied,” he wrote.
“Mr Cheney was exposed to different practises and procedures during his work with John Holland but had received no formal training on those matters. He had no formal qualifications that covered those matters.
“Mr Cheney adopted what he thought was an alternative method of earthing, without adequate safety equipment and in an apparent desire to get the job done. The conductors were not effectively earthed and Mr Cheney was electrocuted.”