Trainee electrician awarded $30,000 reparation after Karori substation 'flashover'

Jay House's employer Northpower, and Wellington Electricity Lines Limited, pleaded guilty to two charges relating to a ...
STUFF

Jay House's employer Northpower, and Wellington Electricity Lines Limited, pleaded guilty to two charges relating to a serious accident in Karori in 2014. (File photo)

A trainee electrician thought his life was over when a metal plate fell across live equipment at a Karori substation.

It created an electrical short and what is known as a flashover, or arc flash, as ageing equipment was being decommissioned at Old Karori Rd substation on May 27, 2014, leaving Jay House with second-degree burns.

The heat was so severe that the trackpants he was wearing melted off his legs.

Chief District Court judge Jan-Marie Doogue sentenced Wellington Electricity and Northpower in the Wellington District ...
DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Chief District Court judge Jan-Marie Doogue sentenced Wellington Electricity and Northpower in the Wellington District Court for their part in the substation accident.

After his employer, Northpower, and Wellington Electricity Lines Limited (WEL) were fined in the Wellington District Court on Thursday, he said: "I pulled the transformer off the panel and all I could hear was myself screaming and the flames and the arc flash.

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"All I could feel was intense heat and there was me, running for my life."

Wellington Electricity chief executive Greg Skelton says the company has accepted responsibility for its part in the ...
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Wellington Electricity chief executive Greg Skelton says the company has accepted responsibility for its part in the incident and has apologised to House.

The two companies admitted intentionally or negligently causing or permitting work to be done in a manner dangerous to life.

WorkSafe laid charges under section 163D of the Electricity Act, with Judge Jan-Marie Doogue choosing to fine Northpower $30,000 and WEL $26,000 at the Wellington District Court on Thursday.

House was paid $20,000 in reparations after a restorative justice meeting earlier this year. However, the judge increased this in court to include additional reparation of $6000 and $4030.

WorkSafe chief inspector Keith Stewart says incidents like the Karori substation "flashover" should not happen.
SUPPLIED

WorkSafe chief inspector Keith Stewart says incidents like the Karori substation "flashover" should not happen.

House, who was 20 at the time, delivered an emotional victim impact statement, outlining the immense physical and psychological cost of the incident which occurred while under supervision.

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After spending about two weeks in hospital and having several months off work, he said it took "almost a full year" before he had physically recovered from serious burns to his face, buttocks and upper thighs.

House found simple tasks like walking and sitting painful, and he was forced to undergo skin grafts and wear compression clothing.

The trauma of the accident meant he suffered frequent panic attacks.

House told the court he collapsed while listening to an ex-rugby player speak about his involvement in a serious motorbike crash.

"As he described his crash and went into details about injuries to his legs, I was very badly affected as my accident came to mind and I passed out in shock," House said.

Just months ago, the attacks were happening "virtually on a daily basis" and included symptoms like tightening of the chest, cold sweats and shooting pains throughout his body.

Despite the hurdles, House was on the cusp of becoming a qualified electrician.

"I, personally, don't put the blame on the higher up [people at] Northpower. It was a shit thing that happened. You've just got to move on from it."

In a statement, WEL accepted the substation should have been "de-energised" before work began and the work plan should have been approved by a qualified person.

"The company accepts responsibility for its part in the incident and extends its sincere apologies to Mr House," WEL chief executive Greg Skelton said.

WorkSafe chief inspector Keith Stewart said both companies failed to "adequately assess and control the risks of working near live electricity".

"Incidents such as this should not happen.

"Working near live components is a well-known hazard in the industry, and risks should be appropriately managed to protect the workers."

 - Stuff

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