March 1, 2023
Graeme Edwards’ family and workmates are relieved Energy Australia has finally faced consequences over his preventable death in a workplace accident at Yallourn Power Station in 2018.
An experienced operator and long-term MEU member, Graeme was killed during a routine maintenance task when an arc flash occurred while installing a high voltage circuit breaker.
WorkSafe initially declined to press charges but initiated a prosecution three years later after the MEU, with the support of Graeme’s family, made a formal request under provisions in Victorian OHS legislation.
Energy Australia pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to provide a safe workplace. Yesterday they received three fines totalling $1.5 million during sentencing in the County Court of Victoria.
MEU Victorian Secretary Mark Richards said there was a great sense of relief among Graeme’s family and tight-knit community that Energy Australia had been held accountable at last.
“We were devastated by the initial decision not to prosecute. Energy Australia admitted that Graeme had done nothing wrong, he was performing a routine task that should not have cost his life.
“Finally, we have seen some justice and accountability.
“Nothing can compensate for the tragic loss of Graeme; but his family, friends and workmates deserve to know that those responsible will face consequences.
“While this tragedy unfortunately predated industrial manslaughter laws; Monday’s conviction and fine will make it harder for Energy Australia to dodge responsibility for accidents and safety failures in future.”
Mark Richards urged the Victorian Government to take action on a 2016 review of OHS compliance and enforcement in Victoria, which found that provisions for requesting prosecutions (Section 131 of the OHS Act) were unclear and confusing.
“This case demonstrates that on some occasions, authorities will only do the right thing when they come under pressure. The Government must ensure there are transparent processes in place to request prosecutions if people believe there’s been a failure by the regulator to hold employers to account over safety.
“With the pressure to close coal power stations the MEU has serious concerns that power generators may not adequately maintain their plant, which could lead to safety concerns.
“These three convictions will serve as notice that safety is paramount.”