When it comes to safety at Water Corporation, its employees are of one mind: Think Safe, Act Safe. A local tragedy involving a severe electrical shock caught the attention of Western Australians, and the team at Water Corporation were quick to act on it.
They developed a range of resources to train operators on preventing similar electrical shocks and those resources are now helping train people around the country in safer practices when working with metallic pipes.
The accident occurred in 2018, when a young 12-year-old girl received a severe electrical shock went turning off the garden tap at her home in Beldon, Western Australia. A fault caused electricity to flow from the mains power through to the tap.
Tragically, she received an electric shock of up to 230 volts AC and had to be dragged by her mother out of an electrified water puddle. While her mother was not severely injured, the young girl was put on life support and suffered significant long-term brain injury. She now requires around-the-clock care.
Her moving story was followed closely in state-wide media as people questioned how such a tragedy could happen. How does an outdoor water tap get connected to mains power? The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety investigated immediately.
They found the root cause of the accident was that the single-phase aerial service cable supplying electricity to the property had an open circuit neutral. It caused a voltage rise on the property’s protective earth system, which was connected to the garden tap that the girl touched while standing on wet ground.
The Construction Branch team at Water Corporation saw an opportunity to be proactive and sprang into action. They realised their own workforce was at risk, as part of their core business was to send operators out to read and replace water meters. If a pre-existing electrical problem was present, like at Beldon, then Water Corporation employees could be exposed to fatal risks. Between 2005 and 2019 alone, Water Corporation recorded 84 instances of water pipes being electrified.
The company’s safety protocols already mandated that its operators must use insulated gloves, electrical testing equipment and a bridging cable before commencing any work. While these measures reduce risk, the team wanted to raise awareness of how water pipes can be electrified and reinforce the importance of using safety gear.
At first, the team developed a physical board with switches, dials and gauges to serve as a visual demonstration of how water pipes can become electrified. It also showed how a bridging cable could help to protect workers at replacing water meters.
While effective as a demonstration, the final kit weighed in at over two kilograms, was bulky to carry and could be easily damaged when transported.
“The demo kit was a great visual tool for those operators who attended the training in Perth. The challenge was transporting and ensuring it worked consistently when administering training across the state. That’s when we decided to go digital and recreate this experience in an app. This could then be shared with anyone, anywhere around the country” said Joseph Penipe, Project Leader, Water Corporation.
Water Corporation developed a simulation that could be integrated into the existing training modules. It also employed a game developer to build graphics and animations for the app to work on laptops, mobiles and tablets.
While the app doesn’t provide a score, it informs if the user if the working environment is safe or unsafe using traffic lights and guides them toward the correct steps. This gamified, intuitive interface makes it a great tool for teaching all maturity levels to recognise the early signs of electrical failure.
Since rolling out the app almost six months ago, Water Corporation has looked for other groups and opportunities for people to benefit from the training modules.
“Our app is TAFE-accredited and already being used by other utilities to add into their safety training curriculum. It’s one thing to develop a resource for our own team, but we are exceptionally proud when we can share it with others and contribute to safer working environments around Australia” said Penipe.
The ‘Water Meter Electrical Safety’ application is now integrated into the North Metro TAFE accredited training module that aligns with the nationally recognised unit of competence ‘Control electrical risk on metallic pipes’ (NWPNET020) which is required for a ‘Certificate II in Water Industry Operations’ (NWP20119).
The app is supported on Microsoft PowerApps and is compatible across various devices. Utilities or other companies wishing to tap into the free training modules are welcome to contact Water Corporation to access and download the training.
Please contact Joseph Penipe at Water Corporation to gain access to the safety training app or for more information.