“Death Stick” Education

by Paul Rodgers (NULCA Board Member & Director of ULS Utility Locators)

As professional locators, we are well aware of the risks underneath our feet that we cannot see. And as we know,  sometimes construction workers don’t give these hazards enough thought or consideration. Apart from excavation and drilling work, one of the risks to underground services that I see on a regular basis, is the dreaded waratah, or more aptly referred to as ‘death stick’. These pieces of steel are used for the temporary installation of silt or safety fencing, but I have also found these used on sites as boxing pegs, as additional support for temporary mesh safety fencing, and for real-estate signage.

In particular, my eyebrow raises when I find these driven in along boundary lines, or in the grass berm. As locators, we know these carry the risk of damaging cables, ducts, or pipes, and the repair can be inconvenient and costly. We also know that the real cost could be an unsuspecting worker’s health or life!  

Recently, a Rotorua worker installing a sign in a roadside berm was critically injured after coming into contact with underground power cables, and this is a sobering reminder to the dangers just below the surface. But it is the following event that happened many years ago that still sticks with me today.

In 2008, a 7-year-old Napier boy was electrocuted outside his grandparents’ home. The boy is believed to have been swinging on a metal waratah being used to protect a piece of the newly laid lawn when he received a serious shock through the waratah. Ambulance crews were unable to resuscitate the boy, and sadly he died at the scene.

The 1.5m ‘death stick’ had been placed in the ground between the footpath and the boundary fence. The cause was an underground electricity cable (found at the correct depth), which had its insulation damaged by the waratah leading to the fault.
This is the worst-case scenario, but as utility locators, we have the opportunity whenever we see waratahs being used in a potentially hazardous way, to educate our clients and their workers, and perhaps keep someone from harm!

Below are a few more examples where a utility locate was done after the waratahs had been installed!

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