8 November 2023
A recent prosecution by Building and Energy in WA has highlighted the importance of not compromising safety as the clean energy transition progresses.
A licensed electrical contractor from the State’s South West was ordered to pay $11,000 in fines and costs for a dangerous installation that could have caused a hydrogen explosion.
Information presented to Perth Magistrates Court showed the electrician attended a rural property to install inverter chargers in an existing off-grid, standalone power system.
The system involved storing solar energy in a bank of vented lead-acid batteries, which produce potentially explosive hydrogen gas when they are recharging. The inverter chargers can be an ignition source for this gas.
Building and Energy’s investigation found the electrician installed the inverter chargers near the vented batteries. This did not comply with the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules, which require protection against ignition when electrical equipment is installed in areas where explosive gases may be present.
In this case, ignition protection should have involved installation of the chargers in a separate area to the vented batteries or in a lockable area with a separating partition or enclosure for the batteries.
The electrician pleaded guilty to two breaches of WA’s Electricity (Licensing) Regulations 1991 – by not adhering to the Wiring Rules and by submitting an incorrect compliance declaration through a notice of completion.
The Magistrate ordered the electrician to pay a global fine of $8,000 and $2,982.30 in costs.
WA’s Director of Energy Safety, Saj Abdoolakhan, said the dangerous installation could have resulted in serious injuries and property damage.
“Hydrogen would have been regularly produced whenever the vented lead-acid batteries were charged by energy from the solar panels,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
“It is pure luck that the chargers did not ignite the gas from the nearby exposed batteries before the danger was identified by a Building and Energy electrical inspector.
“The Wiring Rules require licenced electricians to carefully select the components and location for all their installations, including reference to the manufacturer’s instructions.
“This risk assessment is particularly important when dealing with emerging technologies, unfamiliar set-ups or previously installed equipment.
“Electricians must take a holistic approach to all installations, including safety factors associated with existing components, such as the presence of lead-acid batteries in this case.”