High voltage lines represent special challenges when it comes to work safety. Any misstep around electricity far above the ground carries both the risk of electric shock and the potential of sustaining injury from a fall. One unfortunate Californian landscaping worker fell victim to both types of hazard while trimming trees near power lines. The story behind the incident demonstrates how multiple factors can combine to create a fatal accident.
- The worker did not tie off a tree branch prior to cutting it. This allowed the branch to make contact with the power line and energize the worker’s chainsaw.
- The safety harness and lifeline failed. It was not clear whether this happened because of improper use or because the equipment was faulty.
- The high voltage lines were not de-energized or insulated by the utility company prior to the start of work.
- First aid (CPR) was not immediately administered because no one on-site knew how to perform this potentially lifesaving procedure.
After completing an investigation, Cal/OSHA determined that the following steps could have prevented or mitigated the accident:
- Proper training prior to the start of work including a written safety plan
- Appropriate supervision during the job
- Coordination with the utility company to help provide a safe work environment
- Daily testing and inspection of safety equipment along with a refresher on proper use
- Rescue plan and personnel training that includes CPR
This particular accident occurred in the early 90s, but the dangers posed by working at great heights around power lines are still the same. Public agencies, contractors hired by the city, landscaping firms and utility companies that trim trees away from high voltage lines all place employees at risk if they don’t have an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) in place. A basic written safety plan is not a substitute for the 7 point IIPP required by law (Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, section 3203).
Does your plan:
- Identify the persons with responsibility for implementing the program?
- Include a system for ensuring workers comply with health and safety practices on the job?
- Include a system for communicating with employees about occupational safety and health relevant to their work site and the nature of their job?
- Include procedures for identifying and evaluating workplace hazards?
- Include procedures for developing and implementing correction of unsafe working conditions that are appropriate to the level of hazard posed?
- Include investigational procedures that are followed if an occupational injury or illness occurs?
- Provide training and instruction to all employees and contractors who will be working at the site?
If not, it’s a good idea to have a professional consulting partner help you bring your plan up to code!