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Electrocution citation affirmed after worker’s death

Downed power lines

A serious citation was affirmed against a power line restoration employer after an electrical shock killed one employee and burned the arms and feet of another worker.

Echo Powerline LLC was hired by the Tri-County Electric Corp. in Beaver, Oklahoma, to restore downed power lines and poles, which had fallen over during an ice storm on Jan. 21, 2017, according to the ruling issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on Thursday. One of the repair crews was rehanging distribution lines and was in the process of hanging the third and final conductor when the crew members heard somebody yell after the electrical shock incident.

The employer reported the hospitalization and fatality within 24 hours of the incident, per the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Agency’ serious injury reporting rule. A compliance safety and health officer was sent to inspect the site, but the trucks and equipment had been removed from the worksite after the accident, requiring the officer to reconstruct what happened based on his interviews with the crew members and what he could observe at the location where the accident occurred. The officer ultimately determined that the employer failed to take proper precautions when rehanging the conductors and issued a serious violation and proposing a penalty of $12,675.

The secretary of labor alleged that the employer did not follow the procedures regarding the tension stringing method, meaning when lines that employees are installing or removing can contact energized parts, the employer shall use the method, barriers or other equivalent measures to minimize the possibility that conductors and cables the employees are installing or removing will contact energized power lines or equipment, according to the standard.

Echo Powerline contested the citation, but the law judge found the company failed to employ adequate measures to minimize the possibility the distribution wire would contact the energized transmission cable in violation of the cited standard.

“The facts of this case are not in serious dispute,” the law judge stated. “The factual challenge in this case is recreating the scene of the accident based on the employees’ accounts provided after the fact. While the particular poles and cables at issue were still in the same location, the vehicles and people had already been removed from the site by the time (the inspector) arrived. While this is not unusual in and of itself, the difficulty lies in  assessing the efficacy of certain safeguards based on their proximity to various hazards, which is an important consideration when dealing with high-voltage power sources.”

The law judge placed “substantial weight” on employee testimony related to their direct observations, but noted that their conclusions were not entitled to the same level of deference, according to the ruling. For example, the employees and the company’s designated expert stated that the industry uses bucket trucks as barriers under certain circumstances to minimize the possibility of contact with energized wires, which the inspector disputed was a sufficient barrier under the standard.

“The Court has no reason to doubt the testimony of Respondent’s witnesses on this account, and thus finds a bucket truck, under certain circumstances, can serve as  a barrier,” the law judge stated. “The key question is whether Respondent’s bucket truck, as a barrier, minimized the hazard. The Court finds it did not.”

However, the law judge applied a 10% discount to the penalty based on the employer’s size, reducing the assessed penalty to $11,400.

The law judge’s decision became a final order of the review commission on Wednesday.

An attorney for the company could not be immediately reached for comment.



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