Hazards at three Pilbara homes following electrical errors – Minbaringu Services Pty Ltd, Zane Russell, Trent Tatham

  • Houses in Tom Price and Wickham left unprotected
  • Electricians failed to install a vital safety component during switchboard upgrades
  • Company submitted incorrect safety and compliance declarations

Occupants in three Pilbara homes were left exposed to potentially fatal hazards for weeks after electricians failed to install essential safety devices while upgrading switchboards.

Karratha electrical contractor Minbaringu Services Pty Ltd (EC13443) and electrical workers Zane Russell (EW179116) and Trent Tatham (EW148593) all pleaded guilty to breaching WA’s electricity licensing regulations following prosecution by Building and Energy.

At Perth Magistrates Court last month, the company was fined $50,000 and the electricians were fined $10,000 each for the offences, which included incorrect certifications that their work was safe and compliant.

The court was told Mr Russell and Mr Tatham were employed by Minbaringu in late 2021 when they upgraded switchboards at properties used by mining workers in Tom Price and Wickham.

Electrical workers and designated electrical inspectors from the electricity network operator, Rio Tinto, later found a key safety component, the multiple earthed neutral (MEN) connection, had not been installed in the switchboards at three properties.

Without an MEN, protective devices such as circuit breakers and fuses may not operate if an electrical fault occurs, which can cause metal objects to become live with lethal voltage levels.

The Tom Price home was occupied and hazardous for two months between Minbaringu’s switchboard work and the discovery and rectification of the missing MEN. The same risk was present for a month at the Wickham properties.

The court was also told that Minbaringu submitted official notices of completion for all three properties, which incorrectly certified that the electrical installing work had been checked and tested for safety and compliance. The MEN error would have easily been detected if the company’s electricians had carried out the compulsory checks and tests, including reviewing photographs attached to the notice that clearly showed the fault.

In court on 4 August 2023, Magistrate Thomas Hall said there was “risk of death or permanent injury” from the “very serious” offences, which were made more significant by the work being incorrectly signed off as compliant.

His Honour noted all parties had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and the company had shown genuine remorse and insight. Minbaringu’s post-incident investigation was thorough and it had rectified its practices and cooperated fully with Building and Energy.

Western Australia’s Director of Energy Safety, Saj Abdoolakhan, said the cases should remind electricians why checks and tests of their work are mandatory.

“There is simply no excuse for cutting corners with any area of electrical work when people’s lives can be at risk,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.

“Electrical contractors must also drive a culture of compliance among their employees to ensure proper processes are followed at every job. In this case, the contractor also obviously failed to adequately review photographs of its electricians’ work before signing the notice.

“Had these defects not been discovered by the designated electrical inspectors they could have led to serious injuries or death.”


Media contact: BEmedia@dmirs.wa.gov.au

Building and Energy
Media release
12 Sep 2023

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