WorkSafe has accepted Enforceable Undertakings (EU) from two South Island companies following an incident that followed the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake.

As part of the EUs, Marlborough Lines Limited and Dominion Salt Limited will carry out a number of health and safety initiatives aimed at improving safety in the electricity industry. The combined value of the initiatives totals more than $200,000.

An EU is a voluntary agreement between WorkSafe and a duty holder following a deemed breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and is generally used as an alternative to prosecution. Unlike a prosecution where a fine is paid directly to the Crown, an EU sees money, and other resources, invested to directly benefit workers, the wider industry, and local community.

Electricity distributor Marlborough Lines sustained significant damage to its electricity network on the east coast of the South Island as a result of the Kaikoura Earthquake. Alongside this, Dominion Salt, a saltworks operator, sustained damage to its own private lines network, including downed powerlines in areas outside of its immediate salt production operation.

The damaged power lines within the Dominion Salt private network were isolated, padlocked and tagged by a third-party. These were a vital safeguard intended to stop accidental unsafe operation of the isolating switch. Isolating the damaged power lines meant that power could continue to be supplied from Marlborough Lines to other critical areas of the saltworks operation once faults within Marlborough Lines’ network were repaired.

When Marlborough Lines was eventually able to resupply the Dominion Salt network, a breakdown in communication between Marlborough Lines and Dominion Salt resulted in Marlborough Lines then entered Dominion Salt and because they were unable to unlock the Dominion Salt padlock, cut it off and removed the safety tags, without first referring to Dominion Salt or the third party who had tagged the switch, in an attempt to close the switch, unaware that these were still intended to protect the damaged power lines.

WorkSafe’s investigation found that Marlborough Lines in the process of restoring electricity, critical errors were made. Most importantly the bypassing of an industry standard safety control, intended to prevent the risk of accidental re-livening of the damaged power lines occurred. Although no-one was injured, there was a risk of electrocution had Dominion Salt’s own electrical contractor or anyone else, who may also have been in contact with the damaged parts of the Dominion Salt network when the attempted switching was performed.

WorkSafe’s Manager for Energy Safety Mark Wogan said this EU highlights the importance of having the right processes and agreed communication protocols between all businesses in place.

“Following an event such as an earthquake, basic mistakes can occur in the rush to get things up and running again. Agreed processes and procedures would have reduced this risk significantly. Businesses must be mindful and remain vigilant, even in these fast moving situations. It is important that communications between PCBUs are absolutely clear and structured, so that there is no room for any misunderstandings.”

As part of the EU, Marlborough Lines, with the support of the Electricity Engineers Association and Electricity Networks Association, will be required to develop a comprehensive education programme for industry.

Dominion Salt will be required to develop a number of targeted initiatives to upskill staff and fund a report on the incident which will be completed by the Electricity Engineers Association.

“Since the incident Dominion Salt has implemented procedures to close the gaps” said Brett Hobson, GM Dominion Salt; “and the additional initiatives in the EU will benefit staff, industry and the community.”

Marlborough Lines CEO, Tim Cosgrove said “Marlborough Lines is committed to the health and safety of its employees, contractors and members of the public.

The incident has identified areas where our systems can and have been improved. We appreciate the opportunity the EU provides to share our learnings with the wider industry to help prevent similar errors occurring in the future.”

For more information see Accepted Enforceable Undertakings

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