Delta guilty over pole death

The Alexandra line mechanic who was killed when the power pole he was working on toppled over had not been formally told on his job sheet the pole might be unsafe to climb.

Roger Steel (63) died on December 9 near Millers Flat and his employer, Delta Utility Services Ltd, pleaded guilty in the Alexandra District Court yesterday to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work.

The charge, laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, carries a maximum fine of $250,000. Judge Stephen O'Driscoll adjourned the case to October 19 for sentencing and asked for a victim impact report.

Counsel for the Department of Labour, which laid the charge, Tim Mackenzie said Delta had failed to mark the pole as unsafe to climb, even though it had identified the pole might be unsafe. It also failed to notify Mr Steel.

Mr Steel's widow, Karyn, was in court, supported by several friends and family. Approached for comment later by the Otago Daily Times, she said she preferred to wait until the sentencing. Mrs Steel told the ODT last month she and her family felt like they had been "robbed" of her husband.

Counsel for Delta Russell Checketts said two representatives from the company were in court and Delta was "taking this most seriously".

"They have requested I convey their regrets," he said.

Mr Mackenzie said Delta had earlier carried out a survey of the power line Mr Steel was working on. Six wooden poles were replaced with new concrete poles. The concrete poles were 2m longer than the wooden ones and an excavator was used to deepen the holes.

The site was inspected on October 27 and a report sent to Delta on November 11 said the pole in question was leaning and that its depth in the ground should be checked and a wire stay reattached.

Mr Steel, who had about 40 years' experience as a lineman, was asked to raise the cross arm on the pole, which was what he was doing on December 9. He was working alone and had not been advised of any "issues" with the pole, Mr Mackenzie said.

The pole fell sideways with Mr Steel attached and came out of the ground. As the bank sloped away from the pole, Mr Steel fell about 15m and died as a result of his injuries.

Delta chief executive Grady Cameron said in a statement yesterday the company pleaded guilty as it accepted its responsibility to provide a safe workplace and to improve certain processes relating to the incident.

"Changes we are making as a result of this incident include that all unsafe poles are marked and that all non-conformance information is included on any job sheets," Mr Cameron said.

"We acknowledge this is a difficult time for Roger's family and colleagues and our thoughts and sympathies are with them."

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