'It simply wasn't good enough': traffic signal pit blamed for electric shock of five people
A damning investigation into how a teenager received an electric shock while walking near the Sydney light rail construction site has found four other people were also given shocks from a traffic signal pit that may have been faulty for months.
Anna Lambden, 15, was taken to hospital in June after she felt a sensation like pins and needles coursing through her body while walking in wet socks along George Street in Haymarket.
A lawyer acting for her mother Viola Morris has signalled they will seek compensation and said there was no guarantee the accident would not be repeated.
An independent investigation commissioned by the State Government found the incident was caused by an electric cable being compressed between the lid of a traffic signal pit and its supporting frame.
The insulation wires had been worn away which sent electricity surging through the pit lid.
The situation was exacerbated by wet weather.
The report found the danger may have existed since February, when the last recorded access to the pit was made by a light-rail contractor.
But it also concluded it was possible another party had accessed the pit since that time.
Investigator, John Guselli, also found two homeless people potentially received an electric shock in the same location a week earlier but had not reported it to authorities at the time.
The corner of Ultimo Road and George Street, where the electric shock incident occurred near the light rail construction. (Supplied: Google Maps)
When the teenage girl was injured, her friend and a passer-by who went to help were also given a shock — bringing the total number of people affected to five.
Roads minister, Melinda Pavey, conceded it was lucky nobody had been killed.
“It is fortunate that the girl was a strong, healthy girl — if you had a pre-existing condition … or you’re elderly there could have been a different circumstance,” Ms Pavey said.
“We are determined to ensure that this type of incident never happens again.”
Ms Pavey said she had spoken to the mother of the teenage girl to apologise and the Government also tried to make contact with the homeless people affected.
She said the Government had bungled its initial response to the incident, because it failed to realise how serious the situation was.
“I am furious at how this could have happened and how in the aftermath the transport cluster handled itself — it simply wasn’t good enough.”
Family will seek compensation
Kristian Bolwell, a lawyer acting for Ms Morris, said the family had been left traumatised by the “preventable disgrace”.
“There’s been a near-death experience of my client and significant trauma for her mother who listened to her daughter screaming in agony as a consequence of being electrocuted,” he said.
“We say that’s an outrage.”
Mr Bolwell said the accident appeared to have been caused by rain and poor maintenance — a situation he described as “a dog’s breakfast”.
“I suppose the message to the Premier is you’ll be hearing from us.”
George Street in Sydney’s CBD, which has been closed between King and Market Streets for work on the light rail project. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
Pits audited to ensure safety
Secretary of Transport for NSW, Rod Staples, said the pit in question was not a standard design, which was found to have likely contributed to the incident.
He said the pit would be modified and action was being taken to ensure the safety of other pits.
“All of the signal pits in George Street and in and around the light rail project have gone through a thorough inspection and no safety issues have been found in any other pit at this time.”
But with 33,000 pits across Sydney, the Chief Executive of Roads and Maritime Ken Kanofski conceded the Government could not currently guarantee all pits around the city were safe.
“We have no record of any other pit of this nature,” Mr Kanofski said.
“We have conducted investigations on 352 pits, we have an ongoing assurance process that’s been agreed with Safe Work NSW in order to provide assurance on pits across the system.”
Ms Pavey defended the fact that no one had lost their job over the incident.
Labor Leader Luke Foley said Ms Pavey and the Government needed to do more to get to the bottom of the accident, noting the report was “partial and incomplete”.
“They can’t tell us everything that’s gone on here, and they certainly can’t give the public a vote of confidence that this won’t happen again,” he said.