Essential Energy has been urged to immediately roll out lifesaving defibrillators across the state, bringing safety standards for their predominantly rural and regional workforce in line with metropolitan power companies.
The Electrical Trades Union last year commissioned independent research that has found portable defibrillators provided an effective, affordable, reliable opportunity to prevent accidental deaths among the thousands of workers who carry out dangerous maintenance and repair work on the State’s electricity poles and wires.
While Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy both responded with an immediate move towards rolling out of the devices across their entire service area, Essential Energy — which operates the electricity network across 95 per cent of NSW — only agreed to trial 20 defibrillators in the Tamworth area.
ETU NSW assistant secretary Neville Betts said staff were furious that, despite regional power workers being at greater risk of preventable deaths caused by electric shocks, Essential Energy was continuing to drag its heals.
“This is a company that has thousands of employees maintaining more than 200,000 kilometres of powerlines across the state — often in places far from emergency services — yet they are being denied a lifesaving device that has already been provided to their city counterparts,” Mr Betts said.
“It’s time Essential Energy ended this farcical trial and committed to an immediate and full rollout of this proven safety equipment across their network.”
Mr Betts said that of all the electricity distribution companies in NSW, Essential Energy had the worst fatality rate.
“The union raised the importance of defibrillators with former NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher and all the electricity network companies in meetings last year,” he said.
“While the former Minister, Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy were very supportive, and responded with an immediate rollout, Essential Energy instead opted to simply conduct a trial.
“Why Essential Energy would need to conduct a trial is beyond me, particular given that portable defibrillators are proven technology that the entire sector accepts.”
The union said Essential Energy’s refusal to act on the issue was made even worse by the fact that one of their employees died last year after an electric shock stopped his heart.
“Trevor Tooze, an experienced Essential Energy employee, was working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines on the mid-North Coast when he suffered an electric shock,” Mr Betts said.
“While quick-thinking colleagues performed CPR on him, it took more than half an hour for an ambulance to arrive due to the remoteness of the work site.
“The first thing the paramedics did when they arrived was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it was too late.
“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed him to receive treatment within minutes, which would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”
Mr Betts said defibrillators were affordable and should be placed on work trucks along-side other common safety equipment.
“Portable defibrillators only cost around $3,000 per unit, which is not expensive when compared to other essential safety equipment carried by Essential Energy,” he said.
“For example, the insulated ladders that can be found on every Essential Energy truck cost around $2,000 each. The fact is you can’t put a price on safety.
“Given their affordability and their proven record in saving lives, I don’t know why Essential Energy is continuing to sit on their hands and avoid a network-wide roll out of this lifesaving equipment.”