Informant, Delta poles apart

Richard Healey inspects  a power pole secured to a concrete block in Farley St yesterday ...
Richard Healey inspects a power pole secured to a concrete block in Farley St yesterday afternoon. Photo: Gregor Richardson.
Giving up a 35-year career and a healthy pay cheque  to blow the whistle was not easy for Dunedin man Richard Healey.

But one tragic day loomed large in his decision.

In lifting the lid on the serious danger from Aurora Energy’s "neglected and decaying" network, Mr Healey keeps going back to  colleague Roger Steel’s death on December 9, 2010.

Mr Steel was working on his own at  Millers Flat on a power pole when it toppled over.

The fall of more than 20m left him with injuries a coroner said were "immediately and inevitably lethal".

Delta pleaded guilty to health and safety failures over the death, but Mr Healey insists the company learnt nothing from it and continues to this day to put its staff and the public at unnecessary risk.

Mr Steel’s death continued to have a "dramatic effect" on staff who had worked with him and strengthened Mr Healey’s resolve to try to make Delta a safer place to work.

"Roger was one of nature’s good buggers: he was 63 years old, he had 42 years in the industry and he was looking forward to retirement with his wife, kids and grandkids.

"That has been running through my mind over and over."

After bashing his "head into a brick wall" pushing for safety improvements and achieving some small health and safety victories, Mr Healey’s decision to quit and blow the whistle came down to a simple equation.

"I just couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if something had have happened."

Now, just over two weeks after resigning, Mr Healey said he did not regret his decision, despite acknowledging that at 56 years old he would have to make massive lifestyle sacrifices and would now be unemployable in the industry.

"I’ve been reasonably prudent with my savings, so I won’t starve in the next year or two."

He also did not regret going to the media.

"I’m in no doubt whatsoever that without the influence from the Otago Daily Times and TV3 this would have just died."

He did not have a wife and children, which he believed prevented his colleagues from doing what he had done.

He would miss his workmates and and not being able to "watch out for them" played on his mind.

He said the "phenomenal" decline in the health and safety regime at the company was aptly summed up by a lineman who returned to work at Delta recently and was shocked at what he found.

"He said I can’t believe this s... He said 20 years ago if it got to the next day and we hadn’t replaced a red-tag pole, everyone would go ‘Did you know we didn’t replace that red-tag pole?’"

Now the suspect poles  were regularly being left to stand for more than a year.

"The story really is how a culture can shift from ‘we are doing this to provide a safe service to the community’ to ‘Jesus, if I just keep my head down’," Mr Healey said.

That was not to say there were not some really talented staff at the company.

"With limited resources, they have worked really hard to patch everything up and, as I keep pointing out to people, that was the wrong thing to do."

Mr Steel’s death was followed in 2014 by an incident in which Vincent Moore suffered left leg fractures and a fractured lumbar vertebra falling from a pole while completing a service connection in Cardrona.

"I was at the hospital waiting for the helicopter to land and I saw the bone sticking out of his leg; I saw the vertebra in his X-rays," Mr Healey said.

Once again Delta pleaded guilty and was fined for health and safety breaches and once again Mr Healey said not enough changed at the company.

What "really flipped the switch" for Mr Healey was discovering  due to a computer software error in the weeks before he quit, potentially upwards of 1000 compromised poles had not been red-tagged to prevent workers from climbing them.

"I was quite annoyed because that had been a factor in Roger’s death."

This was compounded by the fact it took more than two weeks for  a "watered down" safety alert to be sent out to staff.

"I think the absence of what appears to now be 1500 red tags ... tells you that actually those lessons were not learned."

A Delta and Aurora spokesman said its "commitment to the health and safety of our people and the community remains paramount".

It was addressing the issues that had been raised and working to reinspect poles.

"We’re also well through re-checking that poles have the correct safety tag in place and will have that re-inspection complete next week."

"We continue to maintain and replace priority poles while this verification work is carried out," he said.

Mr Healey said the changes that had occurred since Mr Steel’s death — which included the introduction of a vehicle tracking system  and an end in recent months to the practice in Central Otago of sending linemen on jobs alone — happened too slowly and in the end he felt going public was the only option.

"That whole cliche that all it takes for evil to triumph is for a few good men to do nothing — that is so true."

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

Comments

Mr Healey needs a medal for bringing these dangers to the attention of the public. Good on him I say. He Mr Healey should be re-employed at Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) replacing the complacent appearing chairman Graham Crombie. Something might just then get done. Again I say! -- Accolades to Mr Healey.

Good on Richard Healey for exposing Aurora Energy's non compliance to legal requirements under the Health & Safety act.
What he has also exposed is the blatant profiteering that is going on all over NZ on the actual price of electricity to the consumer. Every year it goes up by a good %age. As can be seen it has nothing to do with the actual cost of generation & supply, but all to do with making more & more profit for the rich greedy shareholders. Perhaps this should also be "reviewed" by the Commerce Commission.

 

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