Overhead wires kill too many construction workers: Electrical Safety Authority

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    Ontario Construction Report staff writer

    Too many Ontario construction workers are dying or experiencing critical injuries because of contact with overhead wires, says the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).

    “In the years between 2003 and 2012, there have been 14 deaths and 29 critical injuries from overhead powerline contacts,” said Steve Smith, the ESA’s central region general manager.  “It’s one of the highest numbers we have.”

    The ESA believes these injuries and deaths can be avoided with some simple measures, including awareness of the risk of overhead electrical lines.

    “They are elevated to keep out of harm’s way,” Smith said.  “However, with the equipment on the construction site, you can encroach on those safe limits of approach.”

    As an example, when dump trucks arrive on site to dump their loads, “they rise their bucket, and move, hitting the overhead power lines,” he said.

    Smith says there are many distractions on “dynamic” construction sites.  Things change constantly, and it is easy to miss things.  For example, the labourer behind the dump truck might be shocked as he focuses on the ground as the bucket hits the overhead wires – and the unfortunate victim then becomes a perfect conducting rod for the high-voltage electrical current.

    “Do a site survey,” Smith said.  “Take an assessment either before you start working, or move machinery around.”

    Other safety measures include:

    • Always have a signal or spotter for heavy equipment.  “Mirrors don’t do it.”
    • If possible, remove or prepare hazards before starting the work.  For example, if workers will be on scaffolding near electrical lines, qualified electricians “can do coverups – they can put insulators around the conductors” to reduce the risk.
    • It never hurts to have a pre-work check-list, especially for roofers, scaffolding, and any task that has a greater chance of coming into contact with electrical lines.
    • Electricity-conducting aluminum ladders are especially risky.  If, for example, the worker loses control while standing them up, they could hit live lines, and send a deadly electrical current through the worker.  This issue is especially serious in dense urban areas.

    Smith says he is concerned that, while falls are one of the major causes of death on construction sites, the cause of the fall may be that the worker is shocked.  The attributed death or injury cause might be the fall, but the real cause could be electrical contact..

    Other jobsite concerns include damaged equipment, frayed extension cords around water, and inappropriate power tools.  The dangers here are somewhat less severe than from high voltage overhead lines, but they are still serious enough.

    Smith said 73 per cent of known electrical contact incidents occur in the construction sector with heavy equipment. “Sixty per cent of the job-related electrical fatalities can be attributed to improper procedure, that rises to 69 per cent for human error.”

    “One of the leading causes of death on job sites is electrocution,” he said.  “This can be avoided with some simple precautions.”

    For more information, see www.esasafe.com.

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