The Barnes family wants closure after the death of 16-year-old Rueben.
The Barnes family wants closure after the death of 16-year-old Rueben. File

Inquest hears teen insulation installer had no safety gear

A CENTRAL Queensland teenager scarcely had a chance when he was sent with little training and no safety equipment to install insulation within an electrified roof, a Brisbane court has been told.

In the first day of an inquest into the death of 16-year-old Rueben Barnes, State Coroner Michael Barnes heard testimony suggesting Mr Barnes was given no grasp of the dangers on the job.

Mr Barnes had only been working with Arrow Property Management for three weeks.

On November 18, 2009, the court heard, he climbed a ladder for his latest job in Stanwell - south-west of Rockhampton - and came into contact with a screw that had pierced an electrical cable.

A metal pole, used for pushing in the insulation, touched the electrified screw and led to Mr Barnes's death, the inquest heard.

Colleagues tried to resuscitate him, with ambulance officers taking over on arrival.

But at 9.40am that day, he was pronounced dead.

The inquest is investigating the deaths of three young Queenslanders - Mr Barnes, Matthew Fuller, 25, of Brisbane's Meadowbrook, and Mitchell Sweeney, 22, of Millaa Millaa in North Queensland - killed while installing insulation during the Federal Government's so-called "pink batts" stimulus plan.

Rueben Barnes
Rueben Barnes Supplied

Under questioning from Bill Potts, the lawyer acting on behalf of the Barnes family, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigator Sara Francis told the inquest Mr Barnes appeared to have had no safety equipment with him.

"The Arrow Property Maintenance Group were asked about the provision of equipment. It seems, from their answers, the only thing provided was sunscreen," Mr Potts said.

"Nothing else was provided?"

"Not as far as I'm aware," Ms Francis said.

When asked if Mr Barnes should have been wearing long clothes, gloves, overalls, jackets and rubber boots, Ms Francis agreed.

As he navigated the roof, the teenager was believed to be wearing a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of red "Crocs" shoes.

Arrow was fined $110,000 for an electrical safety breach, $25,000 for workplace health and safety breaches and paid legal fees of $14,500 after pleading guilty in the Rockhampton Industrial Magistrates Court in September 2010.

The inquest is investigating the registration of these insulation installers, why metal staples were used when they had been banned elsewhere, and the level of training and supervision given to these workers.

It will also examine how state and federal governments responded to the three deaths.

The inquest continues.