The Risk of Power Line Electrocutions for Workers

January 31, 2017

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration lists electrocution as one of the “Fatal Four” – the four most deadly types of accidents in the construction industry. When OSHA investigates a power line-related electrocution, it usually finds that the accident occurred because of improper safety procedures.

OSHA rules are intended to protect workers from dangers like power lines. Leaders of construction crews are supposed to follow those rules, but they often don’t. And their negligence leads to deadly accidents.

Exposing Workers to Risks

In 2015, OSHA fined a Pennsylvania roofing contractor for willful violation of safety standards, following the death of a worker. The worker died when his aluminum ladder made contact with a 7,200-volt power line. OSHA investigators said the company sent another worker to finish the job 72 hours later, exposing him to the same safety hazards.

In its investigation, OSHA found the company provided workers with ladders that lacked nonconductive side rails, which is why electricity was able to travel through the ladder and kill a worker. The company also placed scaffolding too close to the power line and provided no safety training for employees.

Training Requirements

People who work on power lines must have special training, and training is required for occupations that routinely work near power lines.

Tree trimmers may work near power lines only if they have special training. Only those workers with special training and a pre-job safety briefing are permitted to trim branches that are within 10 feet of power lines. Training is required for workers in any occupation in order to work within 10 feet of power lines.

With some exceptions, crane operators must be certified – a process that involves education and testing. Without certification, crane operators may be unaware of the dangers power lines pose.

An OSHA training video based on actual events shows what can happen when cranes contact power lines: Two workers were laying pipe in a trench – one on the ground, and one operating a crane. The worker on the ground had his hand on the crane’s tagline. When the crane’s boom touched a power line, electricity traveled down the boom and through the tagline, killing the worker on the ground. That death occurred because of numerous safety violations – notably, operating a crane within an unsafe distance of a power line. The crane also should have been grounded, to reduce its conductivity, and the worker should not have placed his hand on the tagline, because the crane was too close to power lines.

Defective or Inadequate Equipment

Workers in close proximity to power lines should wear protective equipment, including hard hats, safety shoes, insulated gloves, flame-resistant clothing, and safety glasses. Before beginning work near power lines, employers are required to examine all safety gear to make sure it’s in good condition and to train workers how to use their safety gear.

That personal protective equipment is the last line of defense against electricity. Workers in crane-operated lift buckets also rely on the safety of those machines. When any part of a lift bucket rig is defective, workers may be in grave danger.

An OSHA safety training manual describes an incident in which a defective bucket caused a fatal accident. A lineman working on de-energized power lines was killed when his lift bucket made contact with the energized power lines below. The bucket did not prevent electrical current from reaching the worker, as it should have.

If you have any questions about this topic or believe that employer negligence caused your injuries, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.