A Sarnia, Ontario area utility company, Bluewater Power Distribution Corporation, has been hit with a $120,000 fine for an accident in which a worker who was performing repair work on downed power lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 died from electrocution.
The incident occurred on October 31, 2012,as two workers were clearing tree limbs and repairing electrical lines. One worked from an aerial bucket while the other worked on the ground. They started working on a downed primary neutral line. Up until then, the worker in the bucket had been doing his work using leather gauntlet gloves, and he was preparing to make the final connection by fastening the neutral end to a connector to complete the circuit path. That was when he called down to the worker on the ground to retrieve rubber gloves from the cab of their truck. While that worker was heading to the truck’s cab, the truck shook and the bucket dropped, causing it to make contact with the power line.
Immediately, the supervisor was called, as was the fire department and an ambulance. The worker in the bucket was transported to hospital, but he could not be revived. The cause of death was determined to be electrocution.
Ontario safety offiicals found that Bluewater Power had violated a number of regulations designed to keep workers safe. For example, no job plan or tailboard was in place before work had been started, even though such a plan is usually prepared by a power line technician when they arrive at the job site, in order to assess the work, and to identify potential hazards and mitigate them. In this case, investigators maintained that a sufficient job plan and tailboard conference would have addressed most of the key hazards at the site. Bluewater noted that they normally completed such plans, but in this case everyone was anxious to restore power to the community.
While both workers had more than 20 years experience each and had been sufficiently trained as to the importance of always wearing rubber gloves when working in an aerial bucket, according to investigators, the job plan and tailboard conference would have served as a reminder and may have prevented the tragedy. The worker had been wearing leather gloves, which has far less electrical resistance than rubber gloves. Moreover, the rubber gloves were also partially damp, which would have weakened their electrical resistance.
Bluewater Power Distribution Corporation pleaded guilty to failing as an employer to ensure that workers performed a documented job plan before performing work on or in proximity to energized electrical equipment as noted in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. As a result, the company was fined $120,000 by Justice of the Peace Anna Hampson, who also added a 25 per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. That means a hit to the bottom line of $150,000, all for not making sure they took a few hours to plan electrical repairs.