Insulation company 'negligent'

This is the house where Rueben Barnes died from an electric shock while installing insulation in an “electrically charged” wall cavity.
This is the house where Rueben Barnes died from an electric shock while installing insulation in an “electrically charged” wall cavity. Allan Reinikka

RUEBEN was an apprentice with no formal training when he was sent into an “electrically charged” roof cavity with another worker to install insulation on November 18 last year.

He had an aluminium pole to push the fibreglass batts into the corners of the cavity on the Stanwell property but when it touched the roof he received an electric shock and later died.

The reason the roof was “live” was because a screw had been put through a stove cable during renovations at the home and the power was on.

Yesterday, Arrow Property Maintenance pleaded guilty in the Rockhampton Industrial Magistrates Court to failing to conduct its business or undertaking it in a way that was electrically safe and failing to ensure its workers were protected from falls from height.

Defence lawyer Cam Schroder said the directors, Chris and Richard Jackson, were bankrupted following the tragedy and were driven to the brink of suicide by the loss of Rueben, whom they considered a friend.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Prosecutor Peter Matthews said the company was negligent because it had allowed work to proceed while the roof cavity was “energised” and without isolating it from the electricity source.

It had also failed to provide adequate training to its staff and it permitted the use of a conductive pole.

Staff had no training in first aid either, he said.

After Reuben died, the company ceased providing insulation.

Mr Matthews asked for a fine of between $90,000 and $125,000. The penalty will be handed down on Friday.

Prosecutor Trajce Cvetkovski said the workers, who climbed a ladder to a height of 4.8m to access the roof, also did not use roof-edge protection to keep them safe from falls.

He asked for a fine of up to $30,000.

Mr Schroder said the insulation scheme had “wrecked my clients’ lives”.

Rueben’s employers were ordinary builders who were trying to get ahead but the tragedy had affected their lives severely, he said.

Mr Schroder said it was the practice of insulation installers not to de-electrify a house.

He said it had taken Ergon Energy three days to identify the fault while his client’s employee had just 20 minutes for a safety audit at the fateful home.

Mr Schroder said the insulation scheme had wrecked his clients’ lives

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