Lineman electrocuted after safety failure

Stuart Kenning.
Stuart Kenning.

An experienced lineman electrocuted on the job had isolated the wrong line then lied to his employer prior to his death about carrying out proper safety checks to ensure the line was not live, a coroner's inquest has heard.

Stuart Andrew Kenning, 48, of Mossburn, died instantly about 9am on October 27, 2012, when he touched a live 11kv wire on a farm near Mossburn.

He and his colleague Marlon McLean worked for Power Services Ltd as contractors to PowerNet Ltd and were repairing a power pole and line downed by a falling tree.

Mr McLean told coroner David Crerar at a hearing in Invercargill yesterday he and Mr Kenning had worked together many times.

On the Friday night, Mr Kenning rang him about the repair job, saying he would isolate the line that night and meet him there the next morning.

Several witnesses outlined the procedure for "de-energising" a line before repair work could begin. It involved removing fuses, using a voltage testing device to make sure the line was dead, connecting earthing cables and attaching an orange "danger" tag at the isolation point.

The person doing the procedure then contacted the system controller, who logged the de-energising procedure as complete and issued a worksite access permit.

Mr McLean said as he was driving to the site at 8.14am, he heard Mr Kenning radio the control room confirming he had de-energised the line, tested it and applied one earthing cable. A recording of that conversation was also played at the inquest.

Mr McLean said he and Mr Kenning straightened the pole using a crane Mr McLean operated. He saw Mr Kenning begin to climb a ladder to work on the line when he heard the distinctive noise of an electric shock.

"It knew it was bad. I saw Stuart holding the line with one hand, then fall to the ground."

Mr McLean called the systems controller, telling him to ring for an ambulance. He also rang his Northern Southland supervisor, Maurice Graham.

He said he started CPR and continued for about 30 minutes until he was too tired to continue. About that time Mr Graham arrived and took over.

Mr McLean said he drove to the gate to guide the ambulance in. It was then he noticed Mr Kenning had removed the fuses for the line to the farmhouse, not the line which required repair. The pole had been tagged, but no earthing cables had been applied.
Mr Crerar asked: "So Mr Kenning did not tell the truth when he told the control room he had checked the line and applied an earthing cable?"

Mr McLean replied: "That would be right."

Workplace New Zealand inspector Terry Keene said two earthing cables and a voltage device were found in Mr Kenning's truck at the farm.

He had mistakenly isolated the wrong line, but testing the line would have alerted him to that, he said. Earthing the worksite would also have protected him.

Mr Crerar said there might be value in having a second lineman check the work of a colleague by using a formal check sheet.

He reserved his decision.

- Otago Daily Times

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