ACT News

History of negligence in fatal electrocution case

A litany of basic safety failures allegedly led to the fatal electrocution of a driver whose tip truck hit live power lines, despite the company responsible for the site being disciplined for the exact same breaches four  years earlier. 

Prosecutors allege active power lines were not turned off, live wire signage was missing, no spotter was used, and visual warnings were missing from the work site where Michael Booth, 48, was killed in March 2012. 

Mr Booth was dumping gravel-type material for road resurfacing at the Barry Drive site in Turner, a project run by Kenoss Contractors, which was  contracted by the ACT government. 

His tip truck either hit or came too close to power lines, sending 11,000 volts running through the vehicle to the earth. 

Mr Booth got out of the truck but collapsed and could not be revived. 

He was flown  to Sydney where he was pronounced dead. 

Kenoss, now in liquidation, and its project manager Munir al-Hasani, also known as Allan Hassani, are facing one criminal charge each for a series of alleged safety breaches. 

The hearing began in the ACT Industrial Court on Monday, and prosecutor Sara Gul gave a detailed opening submission, laying out the case against both company and manager. 

She said access to the small compound on the site where Mr Booth was dumping the material was not locked or properly managed. 

"It sat beneath low, active power lines. No arrangement had been made to turn the power lines off. No arrangements had been made for alternatives to turning them off."

Flags and tiger tails are typically attached to overhanging power lines on construction sites. No such visual warnings existed at the Kenoss site. 

Mr Booth was there on a windy, cloudy day, which, combined with foliage, made visibility poor. Yet noone from Kenoss acted as his spotter. 

The systems manager responsible for the company's safety processes, Dimitri Brendas, admitted in court he had no safety qualifications or formal training. Mr Brendas was also the son of a director of Kenoss, a company owned by the Brendas family.

Road construction work near live power lines is considered "high risk" activity under ACT work safety regulations. 

Yet there were allegedly no specific risk assessments for the small compound near the power lines.

That was  despite Kenoss and al-Hasani being slapped with a prohibition notice by WorkSafe ACT in 2008 for exactly the same issue at a site in Tralee. 

Ms Gul said the dangers that led to Mr Booth's deaths were "clearly foreseeable" and the power could have been easily and simply shut off. 

WorkSafe inspectors showed up at the site after Mr Booth's electrocution. One gave evidence on Monday that, without asking for it, he was quickly handed a document that purported to show an "M. Booty" as signing in for a toolbox talk about the dangers of power lines on February 25. 

Mr Booth did not start work for Kenoss until March. The owner of his truck driving company, David O'Meley, gave evidence that Mr Booth wasn't on the Kenoss job on February 25.

Work safety expert Dr Robert Long, who was brought in to advise Kenoss after the incident, told the court on Monday he had found a significant lack of documentation. Even minutes or notes from critical company meetings appeared not to exist, he said.

Among other things, Dr Long criticised the lack of any real induction process before entering Kenoss sites and the inadequate controls for overhead power line hazards.

He said the company only showed him "the things they wanted me to see".

When he gave "frank and fearless" advice to them on their failings, he said their response was poor.

"It became clear to me that they didn't want to go down the particular advice pathway that I'd given them," he said.

"So I severed my ties with them."

Al-Hasani, who is representing himself, briefly stated to the court at the outset of the hearing that there were issues about who had control of the site at the time. 

He also said the documentation referred to by the prosecution in its opening did not necessarily reflect actual practice at the work site. 

Al-Hasani questioned another work safety expert, David Segrot, about an external audit of Kenoss six weeks prior to Mr Booth's death and cleared it. Mr Segrot conceded the external audit could have given Kenoss a "false sense of security" over its compliance with safety requirements.

Mr Segrot later said the external audit had not looked at site-specific hazards at Kenoss work sites, such as overhead power lines.

Al-Hasani is accused of failing to exercise due diligence to ensure Kenoss complied with safety duties. 

It is alleged that he exercised significant control over the company in his role as project manager, and appeared to have responsibility for safety issues. 

The hearing continues before Industrial Magistrate Lorraine Walker on Tuesday

Kenoss' liquidators are not represented at the proceedings.