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Citations vacated in electrical injury case

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An administrative law judge of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has vacated citations and proposed penalties issued against an electrical contractor whose employee was injured by an arc flash.

Miami-based Solares Electrical Services Inc. was under contract to update the energy monitoring and control system of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, according to commission documents. An employee who was troubleshooting the system was burned when an arc flash occurred as he worked near energized electrical parts. 

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiated an inspection in October 2015 after Solares reported the employee injury to the agency, which proposed penalties totaling $14,700 for alleged violations of OSHA standards addressing electrical safety requirements. The company contested two items of the citation, which carried penalties of $4,900 each, according to commission documents. 

The administrative law judge agreed that evidence showed that Solares failed to de-energize the equipment or require employees working in proximity to the energized parts to use appropriate personal protective equipment, according to the ruling. But the judge vacated one of the citation items after finding that the agency did not prove the employer had actual or constructive knowledge that the employee had begun working on the system without using the appropriate personal protective equipment. 

The judge also rejected OSHA’s contention that Solares failed to implement an adequate safety program. The company had a policy requiring employees to use personal protective equipment and the inspector noted that employees are trained in hazards relating to electrical work. But the inspector’s notes about the safety manual’s lack of specifics regarding what personal protective equipment is required for each job task is insufficient to show the company’s safety program was inadequate, according to the ruling. 

The judge also vacated a citation item for an alleged violation of OSHA standards requiring the use of insulated tools when working in proximity to energized parts after finding the agency failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the employee’s tools were not insulated at the time of the incident. 

The commission has adopted the administrative law judge’s decision as a final order as of June 7 and the department has 60 days to ask an appellate court to review the ruling.

Teri Guttman Valdes, an attorney with Teri Guttman Valdes L.L.C. who represented Solares, expects the administrative law judge’s ruling to stand.

“My client wanted to appeal even though the cost of going through the process is as much if not more as the penalties because the implications of a repeat violation are very severe, in addition to the fact that they believed they had not done anything wrong,” she said. “This was an unfortunate incident. Unfortunately, the employee didn’t follow proper protocols.  

“My clients first and foremost believe they didn’t violate anything and they wanted to clear the company’s name,” she continued. “Repeat violations can have resounding effects in government contracts and they do a lot of government work. They needed to ensure they didn’t have any blemishes on their record in that regard. Even though this wasn’t their fault, they’re going to use this as an opportunity to reemphasize the importance of employees following everything they’re supposed to do to ensure their safety. This company is extremely safety conscious.”