By Michelle Slater
Yallourn Power Station management “feels sick” following the death of a worker who was seriously burnt while working on a circuit breaker on Monday afternoon.
Yallourn Power Station unit operator Graeme Edwards was airlifted to hospital on Monday but died the following day after sustaining severe burns to a large proportion of his body.
The 54-year-old was re-installing a high-voltage circuit breaker on one of the plant’s four generation units, which is a routine job and part of the plant’s planned 70-day maintenance program.
EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna said the company was prioritising providing support to the man’s family and other employees as a WorkSafe investigation gets underway.
“A serious accident just happened and quite frankly, we all feel sick at what happened here. Our priority is the safety of our people and support to Graeme’s family,” Ms Tanna said.
“I really can’t find the words to describe the distress of Graeme’s family and the people who know Graeme, and our thoughts are with them.”
Mr Edwards had worked at Yallourn for about 30 years and was described as a “diligent” and highly-trained specialist.
Ms Tanna said she would not be drawn into the causes of the accident until the investigation was carried out. She said it was important not to pre-empt or speculate about the incident.
“The desire to know what had happened is being shared by everyone across the industry and they are outpouring their support and offers to help,” she said.
“We will be sharing the learnings as soon as we hear them to everyone in the sector.”
Head of Yallourn Mark Pearson said the unit that Mr Edwards was working on would remain shut down until they could work out what had happened.
CFMEU mining and energy division state secretary Geoff Dyke said the remaining Latrobe Valley power generators had urgent meetings in response to the incident.
He said he had been speaking with Mr Pearson about ramping up safety and putting more risk mitigations in place.
“Our workers on site are aware this could possibly happen to them, especially in the absence of knowing what caused it,” Mr Dyke said.
“As part of the investigations, I’d like them to look more widely at how many electrical incidents there are and any sort of underlying culture in play in these incidents.”
Mr Dyke said, for example, when Hazelwood was shut down, five boilers were condemned, and he did not rule out the need for maintenance levels and equipment safety upgrades to be examined.
Labor candidate for Morwell and former Hazelwood unit controller Mark Richards said Mr Edwards’ death hit “close to home”.
“He was a personal friend of mine and he used to go bushwalking with my dad. He was a friend and a colleague and he was very methodical person. I’m devastated,” Mr Richards said.
“Every high voltage operator at these power stations would operate this same item. I would have done something like this 20 times during an outage.”
Latrobe City Council Mayor Graeme Middlemiss said council extended its deepest sympathies to Mr Edwards’ family, friends and colleagues.
“Any loss of life at work is tragic. In this case, many members of our community either work or have worked in the power industry, or they have connections to those workers,” Cr Middlemiss said. “Therefore, this incident has resonated.”