Day 2 of Insulation Installer Death Inquest

Kay Dibben | From:The Courier-Mail | March 12, 2013 4:29PM

Mitchell Sweeney
TRAGIC LOSS: Mitchell Sweeney (right), with brothers Brendan and Justin and mother Wendy. Mitchell was electrocuted in Millaa Milla while installing foil insulation. Source: The Courier-Mail

WORKERS installing foil home insulation in a north Queensland home were using metal staples when a young man was electrocuted, despite being told not to use them, an inquest has heard.

The inquest, in Brisbane Coroners Court, heard investigators who went to the scene after the death of Mitchell Scott Sweeney, 22, found a roof was “live” with 240 volts.

Mr Sweeney was electrocuted and died on February 4, 2010, after a cable he was using to fix foil insulation to ceiling rafters was punctured by a metal staple.

The staple had come into contact with a positive wire at the house at 13 Wattle St, Milla Milla, on the Atherton Tablelands, the inquest in Brisbane Coroners Court heard.

Investigators believed that part of Mr Sweeney’s body had touched roofing material as he was leaving the ceiling, while he was working for Titan Insulations.

Titan Insulations was registered in September 2009, primarily to do insulation installation under a Federal Government program, Titan director Nicholas Lindsay told the inquest.

Mr Lindsay, a builder and carpenter who had no previous experience installing insulation, said he started the company with Ramon Palomar, an engineer, and they used contractors to install insulation.

Mr Lindsay said he called two safety meetings in late 2009, after hearing of the death of another insulation installer elsewhere.

In November 2009 he told workers to do a risk assessment, turn off power before installing insulation and  to use plastic staples instead of metal staples.

Rueben Barnes
File picture. Rueben Barnes was electrocuted while installing roof insulation.

It was left up to the sub-contractors to follow those requirements, the court heard.

Mr Lindsay became emotional after telling the court how Mitchell Sweeney’s death had affected his mental health.

Sub-contractor Andre Palomar, the brother of Ramon Palomar, was installing insulation with Mitchell on the day he was electrocuted,  the inquest heard.

He told investigators that he had been told by the company at the end of 2009 not to use metal staples, but he had continued to buy and use them, instead of plastic staples.

“We found it’s faster to use metal staples than plastic staples,” Andre Palomar told investigators.

The inquest has heard that a government notice about electrical safety, issued on November 1, 2009, said metal fasteners were not to be used in ceiling insulation.

The inquest heard that a co-worker, Chase Martin, told investigators that on the morning of February 4, 2010, he heard  a “thud” and saw Mitchell Sweeney’s leg lying straight out and he did not respond.

“He moved to touch Mitchell and he received a zap,” counsel assisting the Coroner, Ralph Devlin SC said.

An inquest into the death of insulation installer Rueben Barnes has heard evidence from Richard Jackson (left) and Chris Jackson, co-proprietors of Arrow Property Maintenence.

The court heard that before it was de-registered from the Home Insulation Program, Titan Insulations had 506 clients for $663,000 worth of insulation, between October 9, 2009 and February 4, 2010.

In 2011 it was asked to refund $213,000 due to compliance issues and last year a further 41 installations were identified as non-compliant, many because of use of metal staples, the court was told.

The inquest continues into the deaths of Mr Sweeney, Rueben Kelly Barnes, 16, and Matthew James Fuller, who all died between late 2009 and 2010, while installing insulation.

The Federal Government’s Home Insulation Program was shut down in February, 2010, after the deaths.

EarlierThe Courier-Mail reported an employer of a 16-year-old who was electrocuted while installing insulation said he checked to see if a metal roof was “live” that day by putting the back of his hand on it.

Christopher Jackson, a co-director of Arrow Property Maintenance, said he went up a ladder and did the rudimentary hand check before leaving Rueben Kelly Barnes with two other workers.

Mr Barnes was electrocuted while installing fibreglass insulation in a home in Cocks Rd, Stanwell, south of Rockhampton, on November 18, 2009, Brisbane Coroners Court heard.

The electrocution was as a result of pre-existing defects in the ceiling cavity, the inquest has heard.

Insulation death
The home in Rockhampton where insulation installer Rueben Barnes was electrocuted.

Mr Barnes had no training in installing insulation in roofs and he was not wearing any personal safety gear, the inquest before State Coroner Michael Barnes has been told.

Mr Barnes and another worker had used a metal pole to push insulation batts in the roof cavity, but Mr Jackson said he did not know they had it with them, the inquest heard.

Mr Jackson said he checked a “clicker box” , which had a safety switch to turn off power to the house, on the morning of Rueben’s electrocution.

But the inquest heard a stove circuit was still live.

When asked why he did not turn the power off Mr Jackson said: “I’ve never turned the power off in my life. I’ve been in hundreds of roofs.”

Mr Jackson said after he signed up his company as insulation installers under the Federal Government’s Home Insulation Program he sent in the company’s ABN and other insurance details.

He said in his only phone conversation with the government official hooking him up with the program he was never asked about competencies of the tradesmen who would be installing insulation.

When asked by lawyer Geraldine Dann, representing Rueben’s siblings, if he had to satisfy the government that he had qualified tradesmen he said: “Not at all.”

Mr Jackson said the government official said the company was “ready to go” with the insulation work.

He said the government man’s words were: “How hard is it to put insulation in a roof? Mate, make hay while the sun shines.”

The inquest is looking into the deaths of three young men who were electrocuted while installing home insulation under a Federal Government scheme.

James Fuller, 25, Mr Barnes, 16, and Mitchell Scott Sweeney, 22, died between 2009 and 2010, the inquest has heard.

Mr Jackson, a roofer plumber who was co-director with his brother Richard, said he never shut off power being going into roof cavities, as it was an electrician’s job.

“I trusted the tradesmen before me,” he said.

The inquest heard that Rueben, a first-year apprentice carpenter, died three weeks after starting insulation work, after coming in contact with a “live” metal batten in the ceiling.

A screw had penetrated an electrical cable at least 10 years earlier, the inquest was told.

The court heard that the company went into liquidation after Rueben’s death and Christopher Jackson was bankrupt when the company was fined $135,000 and ordered to pay $40,000 court costs for electrical safety offences in September last year.

Mr Jackson, who said he was still bankrupt and living in the back of a cage in a small room in Rockhampton, agreed with lawyer Bill Potts that “not one red cent” had been paid.

The $2.45 billion home insulation program was shut down in February 2010, after the deaths.