Electrocuted scaffolder off life support after doctors amputated both arms

A young father who had both arms amputated after suffering an electric shock on a scaffolding worksite has come off life support and is likely to be informed of his horrific injuries today.

Jahden Nelson’s distraught mother Toni Paikea is demanding answers about why the 28-year-old was allowed to work beneath live high-voltage powerlines and why the electricity had not been disconnected.

“As a parent, nothing can replace what’s lost. To have my son live through this and actually open his eyes and acknowledge me, it breaks your heart.”

Nelson was critically injured while dismantling scaffolding at a Massey worksite two weeks ago.

It’s believed he was holding a steel pole when it touched low-hanging overhead lines. Witnesses saw a “fireball” erupt and heard a loud explosion when the electric current ripped through Nelson’s body before he collapsed.

Paikea told the Herald her son’s breathing tube had now been removed and he was breathing by himself. He remains in ICU at Middlemore Hospital.

“In the last 48 hours he’s opening his eyes but he’s oblivious to what’s going on.”

Nelson had undergone daily operations since the accident to remove burnt tissue and ward off infection. Both his arms had been amputated due to the extent of his injuries.

The father of three preschoolers had been heavily medicated but doctors were now weaning him off the drugs, Paikea said. Nelson was expected to be coherent enough to be told about losing his arms some time today.

Lines company Vector has confirmed that a “close approach consent” was issued to Nelson’s employer, Supercity Scaffolding.

The consent identified the minimum approach distance from powerlines needed to protect workers.

“The consent highlights the risks of working close to the lines and enables a company to work within defined areas,” a Vector spokeswoman said.

“Once it has been issued, it is up to the company to manage within those parameters, maintaining safe distances from the power lines.”

The spokeswoman would not say whether the lines above the worksite should have been disconnected, and declined to comment further while the accident was under investigation by WorkSafe.

Local MP Phil Twyford is also involved. He said his heart went out to the family.

“This is a terrible thing that’s happened to them.

“I’ve been trying to support Toni but also I’m doing to my best to make sure Jahden and his family have legal representation to make sure there’s a proper investigation into what’s happened and that there is real accountability.”

Supercity Scaffolding director Claire Attard said she could not comment while the accident was under investigation.

The owner of another scaffolding company, who asked not to be named, said best practice guidelines were in place to protect workers from the risk of electric shocks.

“Really it shouldn’t have happened.”

The company owner said his workers were not allowed to go within 4m of powerlines.

“As far as we’re concerned there’s no grey area. You’re not going to put someone in the line of danger.”

Paikea told the Herald the lines above the worksite did not appear to be “sleeved” – a protective cover to prevent people being electrocuted.

The company owner said if lines were unsleeved he would expect them to have been disconnected while workers were onsite, or written confirmation provided that the site was safe for workers.

A full safety analysis should also have been carried out by a certified person prior to work commencing and all workers property briefed.

WorkSafe guidelines recommend employers identify electrical services and disconnect them if possible.

“Ensure scaffold is at least 4m from any conductor unless the line owner has given written authority and measures are in place to eliminate or isolate the risk,” the guidelines say.

Nelson is expected to be in hospital for months and face years of rehabilitation.

A givealittle page for the family has raised nearly $50,000.

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