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Contractors cited after construction crane boom hits power lines

A general contractor and two subcontractors have been cited for six serious and willful workplace safety violations after two construction workers were injured last year. A crane boom came into contact with high-voltage power lines, and approximately 14 kilovolts of electricity shot down the crane's hoist line to the men working below.

Tragically, the companies apparently failed to take some of the basic safety measures required to keep workers safe around power lines. This was despite a 2012 alert issued by the state's Labor & Industries department.

That alert came after the L&I received six reports of power line contacts in just six months. The alert warned companies that operate cranes near power lines that they must use strategies to prevent any contact between crane booms and hot power lines, which can create a deadly hazard. It recommended they always designate a "lift director" to be in charge of the safe operation of the crane and to ensure a safe radius is maintained.

In this case, the high-voltage power lines were to have been moved underground. However, the three companies did not wait for that work to be done, but continued construction work under the lines.

The general contractor was charged with willfully failing to put protective measures in place, allowing work below live power lines to take place, and a lift director violation. They had a lift director, but investigators found he did not know the voltages involved or what safety measures were required. The company was also charged with two serious violations. It was fined a total of $133,500 and has appealed the citations.

Two subcontractors, a concrete company and the crane operator, were also cited. The concrete company was cited with willfully failing to train its employees on how to work around power lines and for failure to supervise them. It also failed to hold or document weekly walk-around inspections for safety issues. It was fined $90,000 and has appealed.

The crane operator's violations were considered serious but were not detailed in the Claims Journal story.

A willful violation is defined as one involving either plain indifference or intentional disregard for a rule or known safety hazard. A serious violation is one in which serious physical harm or death could result.

According to the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health, the following types of construction workers are the most likely to be injured through contact with power lines:

  • Roofers
  • Painters
  • Siding and sheet metal installers
  • Tree trimmers
  • Water, sewer, pipeline and communication line workers

OSHA recommends assuming power lines are live until you receive notice from the power company and/or you can see that all lines are visibly grounded.

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