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2 workers hurt when crane boom contacts high-voltage power line

Three contractors have been cited for serious and willful violations after they allowed work to continue around live power lines. The high-voltage lines were scheduled to be buried, but instead of waiting for that work to be complete, the companies continued to allow work near and around the lines. Tragically, a crane boom came into contact with the lines and some 14 kilovolts shot down the hoist line directly to two men working below. They suffered severe electrical injuries.

These events occurred last fall, but the state's Labor & Industries department has just released the results of its investigation. The general contractor was fined a total of $133,500 for serious and willful safety violations. A concrete subcontractor was fined $90,000 for serious and willful violations.

Both have appealed those fines, but as a result of the investigation they have been designated as severe violators. They will be subject to additional follow-up inspections to determine if they have addressed the issues.

The crane contractor was cited for serious violations and fined $5,700, according to Claims Journal.

OSHA: Assume all power lines are energized until the power company notifies you otherwise

The details of this particular case are worth reading, but it's more important to understand the risks involved with working around high-voltage power lines.

Between 1999 and 2012, nine people died in just this one state in accidents where cranes contacted power lines. In 2012, six contacts in six months prompted the Labor & Industries department to issue a warning to contractors about the potentially deadly hazards. It urged companies to prevent crane booms from coming into contact with power lines, and reminded them of the requirement to designate a fully qualified "lift director" who knows the voltages involved in the project and what safety measures are needed to work safely around them.

Beyond having a qualified lift director, the American Society of Safety Engineers recommends having a designated spotter, insulating all links, installing a device to limit the crane's range of motion, and using a range control warning device.

The Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health lists these contractors as the kinds most likely to come into contact with live power lines:

  • Roofers, siding installers and sheet metal workers
  • Tree trimmers
  • Exterior painters
  • Water, sewer, communication and pipeline workers

In 2014, Hanover Insurance Group said that "workers handling taglines or crane loads, workers who are in contact with the crane, and operators who leave the crane cab" were those it found most at risk for electrical contact injuries.

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