The case, Secretary of Labor v. Echo Powerline, LLC is an unfortunate example of how employees can still get hurt when safety measures are taken into consideration. Echo Powerline, LLC was tasked with restoring downed power lines and poles that had fallen during an ice storm in Beaver, Oklahoma. While a crew supervised by Brad Brouilette had taken several precautionary measures to avert injury to his crew members, the unthinkable still occurred and two employees were electrocuted.
On the day of the accident, groundmen were required to “walk up” the wire. This entailed laying out the downed wire in separate strands along the ground and lay them on the cross-arms of the poles for installation. This was done to prevent the wires from becoming tangled amongst themselves before being set in place. Groundmen lifted the conductor using a hoist and handline system. Before it was raised into the air, one of the employees had spliced the broken conductor. After the broken conductor had been finished splicing, the groundmen began to pull the conductor to set it in the handline and hoist it up to the linemen. The employees were electrocuted as the conductor was pulled up. One employee suffered burns to his arms and feet, while the other died of electrocution. An accident report prepared by Echo Powerline, LLC showed the transmissions lines did not touch but came close enough to each other to allow energy to jump from one line to the other.
Safety Measures Taken
The investigation conducted by OSHA discovered the many precautionary measures employed by Brouillette. He discussed with the crews the plan how to re-hang the distribution lines safely. In order to hang the lines safely, the crews were required to manage encountered downed distribution lines connected to a pole that were connected to additional distribution lines running perpendicular to them. As required in the company’s safety manual, rubber blankets were placed over potential points of contact along the energized line. Crew members who lacked training on transmission lines were not allowed to work on transmission lines. Bucket trucks were used as a barrier between distribution lines that were to be hung and the overhanging transmission lines.
Brouillette shortened the distribution pole to maintain a safe distance between the distribution and transmission lines. Employees were equipped with personal protective equipment specific to their job duties and location. The bucket trucks were also grounded and insulated to protect from electrocution.
The Occupational Safety Health Review Commission cited Echo Powerline, LLC for not using the appropriate tension stringing method. When installing or removing energized parts, employers are required to use the tension-stringing method to minimize the possibility conductors and cables the employees make contact with energized power lines or equipment. This method is the “mechanized pulling of conductive wire through previously-installed stringing blocks attached to a series of power poles.” The tension-stringing method is done to control the flexible line and avoid the type of hazard that occurred.
Echo Powerline, LLC later changed its position and claimed it used a tension-stringing method by applying tension by using a handline to the line, with manpower. This manpower was generated by someone pulling on the end of the wire. The Court found Echo Powerline LLC did not use the tension stringing method appropriate with the facts.
If the employer is unable to use tension stringing, other barrier measures can be used if they accomplish the same level of protection. The Court found the use of barriers were insufficient to minimize the hazard created by the transmission line however. Echo Powerline, LLC initially argued it did not use the tension-stringing method because it could not use mechanical tensioning equipment to re-string a downed line. It later changed its position that it did use a tension stringing method by using a handline to raise the line to the lineman. The Occupational Safety Health Review Commission proposed a penalty of $12,675. The small size of the company with 70 employees enabled it to receive a 10% discount and pay $11,400 instead.
Preparing For Emergencies
It is unfortunate, but even when jobs are conducted carefully and methodically with safety in mind, accidents may still happen. It is important not take for granted the possibility of an accident when steps are taken to account for hazards in the workplace. It is important to be prepared for when accidents do happen. This includes having first aid kits readily available, knowledge of how to administer CPR, and procedures in place for when emergencies occur. This case also demonstrates the importance of investigations and complying with authorities to learn from and eliminate future accidents. Though several steps were taken to ensure the safety of its employees, it was a mystery to the employees how the un-energized distribution wire became energized.
At Whitcomb Selinsky PC, we hope you will never have to deal with the death or injury of an employee, but if the unthinkable happens, we are certain we can provide you the best solutions when encountering such difficult challenges. Please all (303) 534-1958 or complete an online contact form.