Linesman misses safety meeting, gets electric shock

A linesman who missed a safety meeting then suffered an electric shock and fell off his ladder has failed in a bid to challenge his sacking.

Cameron Nelley, a Top Energy linesman, missed a safety briefing on the morning of April 1, 2013, that identified hazards on the job that day. Missing the meeting cost him his job, and his second mistake could have cost him his life after he fell 6m off a ladder after receiving an electric shock.

Now, after challenging the decision to sack him, he has been ordered to pay $10,000 in legal costs to his former employer.

Mr Nelley had been dismissed in May 2013 after he suffered an electric shock from an 11kV line in Opononi. He fell 6m into bush and suffered minor burns to both hands. He was flown to Whangarei Hospital where he spent two nights.

Before work on April 1, 2013, he had missed the morning hazard identification meeting run by his supervisor that identified potential hazards, work to be done and in which areas.

An afternoon shutdown at two poles Mr Nelley worked on was scheduled to start later than 1pm that day but he thought it would start at 12.30pm.

As he attached his safety harness, he came into contact with the live wire.

Top Energy conducted an investigation and found Mr Nelley breached the Safety Manual - Electricity Industry (SM-EI), code of conduct and disciplinary policy that resulted in his sacking. He unsuccessfully took the company to the Employment Relations Authority, arguing several factors led him to believe the line he was working on was de-energised.

Top Energy, he said, didn't routinely require compliance with SM-EI because if it had, his accident would not have occurred.

But authority member Tania Tetitaha said given the nature of his job, being around an extremely hazardous substance, namely electricity, he should have followed appropriate procedures prior to starting work.

Mr Nelley raised a contradiction in the company's finding that he started work on site without signing the access permit that allowed them permission to worksites.

He questioned why another employee who accessed the network without signing the access permit wasn't dismissed but instead given a written warning.

On his failure to attend the hazard identification meeting, Mr Nelley said he didn't believe it was required as he thought he knew the hazards well enough when he did not.

Following the authority's decision, Top Energy applied for costs of about $20,000 from January 22, 2014 to completion of the case.

Mr Nelley gave evidence of loss of income for 12 weeks following his dismissal, the uncertainty of future earnings and his personal and financial difficulties.

He was ordered to pay the $10,000 by weekly instalments of $50.

- By Imran Ali of the Northern Advocate

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