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The inquest into the death of Mr Steel (63) at Millers Flat on December 9, 2010, was held on October 26 last year and Otago Southland coroner David Crerar released his finding yesterday.
Mr Steel was working on his own, along the Millennium Track, and was attached to a power pole with a safety harness. The pole toppled over and he fell more than 20m, receiving injuries which were ''immediately and inevitably lethal'', Mr Crerar found. Although it appeared he had taken the appropriate action in isolating the 240-volt line, the power lines became ''live'' as the pole fell and connected with higher voltage lines nearby. Mr Steel received electrical burns which could have been debilitating or fatal, the coroner said.
Delta was prosecuted under the Health and Safety in Employment Act and was fined $75,000 in the Alexandra District Court in October 2011 after pleading guilty to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work. The charge was laid by the then Labour Department, after investigating Mr Steel's death. Mr Crerar made four recommendations to Delta about work practices and asked for his findings to be forwarded to the Electrical Engineers Association for ''wider distribution through the electrical supply industry''.
The pole which fell had earlier been placed by a Delta work gang, in the footing of the pole it replaced. After the work was inspected, it was recognised the pole was unsafe and its deficiencies were reported to a staff member. The hazard identification procedure adopted by Delta and its employees was unsuitable and needed to be improved, he said.
''There was sufficient information available at all times to show that pole 54520 was unsafe in its placement.''
Delta chief executive Grady Cameron said the company deeply regretted Mr Steel's death ''and the loss of a well-liked and well-respected workmate''.
''As the coroner noted, Delta has reviewed and made enhancements to our work practices. We wanted to make sure that we never have another workmate in this position again,'' Mr Cameron said. Mr Crerar recommended lines staff should work in pairs on site.
''Two minds are better than one. Another worker may have identified the hazard the pole presented when such hazard was not noticed by Roger Steel,'' Mr Crerar said.
He also recommended all ''suspect'' power poles should be red-tagged. Evidence was given that potentially unsafe wooden poles were given a red tag but it was harder to attach a red tag to a concrete pole.
Mr Cameron said Delta had taken remedial action including red-tagging all poles deemed unsafe to climb, the introduction of systems to quickly locate vehicles and employees wherever they were working and had also made changes to work instruction forms.
It was reviewing the implication of the ''working in pairs'' recommendation with the wider electrical supply industry, he said.