On September 26, 2016, two men were seriously injured when a crane at a construction site in West Seattle made contact with overhead power lines close to the job site. The incident occurred at about 10:30 a.m. near 42nd Avenue Southwest and Southwest Oregon Street. As lawyers representing injured construction workers, we have unfortunately seen these types of incidents many times in the past.
Data from the NIOSH National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) Surveillance System indicates that electrocutions accounted for approximately 450 of the 6,400 work-related deaths that occurred annually in the United States from 1980-1989. Preventing Electrocutions of Crane Operators and Crew Members Working Near Overhead Power Lines, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 95-108 (May 1995). In the four-year period from 1985 to 1989, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported 113 deaths from crane and boom truck contact with overhead power lines. Id. Nearly 30 percent of all electrocutions on the job site involve crane and boom operation. Id.
As a direct result of the hundreds of electrocutions throughout the nation caused by crane and boom truck contact with overhead power lines, a number of regulatory standards have been established to prevent these tragic deaths by state and federal governments. On the national and international level, OSHA and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have adopted strict standards to help prevent work site electrocutions. See 29 CFR 1926.550; Mobile and Locomotive Cranes, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME B30.5-1994.
Similarly, in Washington the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) sets forth specific standards to be followed to prevent accidental contact with overhead power lines on construction sites:
- Written Accident Prevention Program: Each employer is required to develop a formal written accident prevention program tailored to the needs of the particular operation and the type of hazards involved. WAC 296-115-110.
- Crew Safety Meetings: Each employer is required to conduct weekly crew safety meetings tailored to the particular operation and maintain minutes of each safety meeting. WAC 296-115-110(5)-(6).
- Identification of Electrical Hazards: “Before work is begun the employer shall ascertain by inquiry or direct observation, or by instruments, whether any part of an energized electric power circuit, exposed or concealed, is so located that the performance of the work may bring any person, tool, or machine into physical or electrical contact with the electric power circuit.” WAC 296-155-428(1)(d) (emphasis added).
- De-Energizing the Power Lines and Use of Insulators: “No employer shall permit an employee to work in such proximity to any part of an electric circuit that the employee could contact the electrical circuit in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against electric shock by de-energizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulating or other means.” WAC 296-155-428(1)(a).
- Warning Signs Required: “The employer shall post and maintain proper warning signs where such a circuit exists. The employer shall advise employees of the location of such lines, the hazards involved, and the protective measures to be taken.” WAC 296-155-428(1)(d) (emphasis added). See also WAC 296-155-428(l) (Warning Signs Required).
- A Spotter is Required: “A person shall be designated to observe clearance of the equipment and give timely warning to insure that the required separation is maintained for all operators where it is difficult for the operator to maintain the desired clearance by visual means.” WAC 296-155-525(e)(iv) (emphasis added).
- Any Overhead Electrical Wire Must Be Considered Energized: “Any overhead wire shall be considered to be an energized line unless and until such person owning such line or electrical utility authorities indicates that it is not an energized line and it has been visibly grounded.” WAC 296-155-525(e)(vi).
- Employer Responsible for Maintaining Minimum Clearance Distance of 10 feet: “Where overhead electrical conductors are encountered in proximity to the work area, the employer shall be responsible for: (i) Ascertaining the voltage and minimum clearance distance required; (ii) maintaining the minimum clearance distance; (iii) Ensuring that the requirements of this section are complied with.” WAC 296-155-428(e)-(g) (emphasis added); see also WAC 296-155-682(8)(e) (concrete pumping systems).
However, these safety standards can only prevent accidental contact with overhead power lines if the standards are followed and enforced on the job site by the general contractor. Despite the long history of work site electrocutions and the regulatory scheme designed to minimize electrical hazards, many employers continue to ignore these safety standards and lives continue to be lost. While the above-incident remains under investigation, early information suggests that the power line was not properly marked. Under these circumstances, the injured workers may have a cause of action against the general contractor for failure to enforce work safety rules. The pursuit of a personal injury action may provide compensation that is not available under workers’ compensation laws and allow injured workers and their families to obtain the assistance that they need to move forward in the wake of an injury.
If you have questions about your rights following a construction injury, contact our experienced construction injury lawyers for a free consultation.