A case involving the electrocution of a general maintenance mechanic three years ago was resolved in July of this year. In June 2016, a general maintenance mechanic for Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC) died from electric shock and fall from a ladder where he hit his head. After an investigation conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), citations were issued to JCMC alleging violations of OSHA’s electrical safety and training standards with a penalty of just under $175,000. JCMC denied it was at fault and filed a notice of contest. The contest by JCMC brought the case before the Occupational Safety Health Review Commission (OSHRC or Commission) to resolve the matter.
Steve Okon, an electrician of the Facilities Department of JCMC, identified the steps needed to replace a light bulb when it does not illuminate. It requires the knowledge of whether power is interrupted, or if the ballast of the fluorescent light fixture should be replaced. The ballast is what transforms energy to power the fluorescent light bulb. Changing a ballast requires the following steps: (1) de-energizing the circuit; (2) lock out/tag out the circuit; and (3) verify using a non-contact pen tester or meter that no residual power is leftover in the ballast. Workers can “wire and rewire(s) only after the ballast has been de-energized and grounded.
Lawrence Dapat, a general maintenance mechanic of the Facilities Department, and Okon testified that after the power is switched from the circuit, power may still be leftover in the ballast that could cause a powerful shock. Okon testified that he investigated the light fixture that the decedent became injured with and noticed a live exposed wire. He stated he believed the wire is what caused the electrocution. Christopher Vanella, a contractor hired by the Director of the Facilities Department furthered this assertion by his testimony that a black wire was "feeding” the decedent’s light with 277 volts. Video evidence of the incident along with Okon
and Vanella’s testimony determined the decedent failed to de-energize the light fixture prior to working on it.
The Secretary of Labor cited JCMC for failure to: (1) de-energize live parts to which anemployee works on or near; (2) lock out, tag out or both lock out and tag out the energizing parts of a circuit when working with live electric current; (3) require only qualified persons to work on electric circuit parts or equipment; (4) provide employees with and have them use electrical protective equipment; (5) and ensure that employees are trained in safety-related work practices for electrical work. JCMC contested these citations. It argued no general maintenance mechanic was ever directed or authorized to work on live current, and the record showed the decedent did
not de-energize the light fixture and worked on live current when he was electrocuted. JCMC argued it could not be held responsible for the employee’s “unpreventable and inexcusable misconduct.” This defense was rejected because it required the supervisor take steps to discover violations, and this never occurred at JCMC. It was also brought to the attention of JCMC that written procedures for de-energizing circuits were not made available as they should have been, making it more likely employees would work without the proper training. JCMC’s position was all its employees were trained on electrical safety, and the decedent’s actions were unauthorized
because no one directed him to change the ballast.
The Commission however noted the training provided to the employees was not specific to electric equipment. JCMC’s management was aware its employees were not using personal protective equipment (PPE), and asserted PPE was inappropriate for the work. Okon however stated it was possible and safer for a person to wear protective gloves while using a voltage meter. The record also supports JCMC knew the decedent was changing ballasts. The Commission concluded JCMC acted with indifference toward the worker's safety because it knew the employee was performing electrical work while not having the appropriate safety-related training.
Injuries, as shown in this case can be prevented by creating a workplace culture that values safety above all. Everyone must know the right safety protocol or at least have the information readily available. The chain of command and knowledge of who has authority to monitor employees’ safety contributed to the unhealthy workplace culture at JCMC. The chain of command must be known to create accountability among supervisors and employees and ensure safety is always of utmost concern. If you recognize your company is making the same mistakes as this case or others discussed in our blogs, please call us so we can help you. We want to ensure your team members and company are in the best shape possible.