The tragic electric shock death of a WA man while handling a high-voltage homemade appliance is a stark reminder of the dangers of unlicensed electrical work, the State’s energy safety regulator has warned.
The message from Building and Energy follows the prosecution of the person who made the device, warehouse worker Steven Ryan Buckle. On 10 December 2021 at Perth Magistrates Court, Mr Buckle pleaded guilty to breaching WA’s electricity licensing regulations.
The court was told that in February 2020, Mr Buckle referred to internet videos and used microwave parts and jumper leads to make a DIY electrical device for Lichtenberg or fractal burning, an art technique that uses electricity to create patterns on wood.
On 22 March 2020, Mr Buckle loaned the appliance to a female friend near Katanning in WA’s Great Southern region. The woman was using the device alongside a man who accidentally made contact with live electrical components and received a fatal electric shock.
Mr Buckle, who was not present at the time of the incident, said he did not know the deceased man and regretted making the appliance.
Magistrate Donna Webb fined Mr Buckle $8,000 (suspended for six months) and ordered him to pay costs of $573.50.
Her Honour noted Mr Buckle’s early guilty plea and remorse, but added that the tragedy was the “ultimate example” of the dangers of unskilled electrical work.
A similar wood art burning device is also believed to have caused the death of a South Australian man in 2018.
According to the American Association of Woodturners, 31 deaths in the United States have been associated with Lichtenberg or fractal burning appliances in the past five years, prompting the organisation to ban the technique at its events and exclude articles about it.
Building and Energy Acting Executive Director, Nabil Yazdani, said domestic electrical appliances must have a regulatory compliance mark – a tick inside a triangle – to show they have passed rigorous safety tests to be approved for use in Australia.
“The construction or use of any homemade electrical device can have devastating consequences in a split second,” he said.
“These DIY appliances often involve missing or inadequate protective components, improper use of parts and unskilled construction and handling of a potentially deadly high-voltage apparatus. As this tragedy shows, it is simply not worth the risk.”