Poor risk management, emergency planning, and training for confined spaces work put an electrician’s life in danger and threatened the safety of 14 others who went to his aid in a grain silo incident, says WorkSafe Chief Inspector Keith Stewart.

The electrical company Austin Bros (1980) and the farming partnership Mark and Sonia Dillon appeared in the Gore District Court for sentencing on 14 June 2017 and in a reserved decision, the court has fined the company and the partnership for their roles in the incident.

In March 2016 two electricians were wiring up motors in a newly commissioned grain silo on the Dillon’s property. The electricians were working on top of the grain without harnesses and with no power isolation. A truck arrived to empty the silo and the grain outfeed auger was turned on.

“The dangers of working on grain are well known. Moving grain acts like quick sand and can bury a person in seconds. Even if grain appears to be solid, it is not a safe surface for workers,” said Mr Stewart.

One electrician was engulfed in the grain and had to be dug out and resuscitated. Four rescuers required hospital treatment for breathing difficulties.

“The electricians should have been wearing harnesses; the truck driver should have been told they were in the silo. It was good luck rather than good management that meant no one died in this incident,” Mr Stewart said.

More information on planning confined space work.


  • Austin Bros (1980) was sentenced on one charge under S6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure safety of its employees at work and fined $35,000.
  • The Dillon Partnership was charged under section 6, 17 and 18(1)(a) of the Health and Safety in Employment Act for their failures in respect of their employees, and the employees of the contractors and Mr Dillon’s actions of turning on the auger which resulted in the engulfment. The Court fined Dillion Partnership $69,000 on totality of all three charges.
  • Each defendant was also ordered to pay reparations of $5,000 - $7,000 was awarded to the victim of the engulfment, and $3,000 was awarded to the electrician who managed to get out of the silo and raise the alarm.

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