Electrocution: Work Safely with Ladders Near Power Lines | Transcript

In the U.S., hundreds of construction workers die every year while on the job, with over 700 fatalities just in the year 2011. The third leading cause of these deaths is electrocution. Electrocutions cause one of every ten construction worker deaths, with nearly 70 deaths in 2011. But these deaths can be prevented. The video you are about to see shows how quickly contact with overhead power lines can result in the electrocution of a worker. The video will also show what employers must do so that the work can be done more safely. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace and protect workers against possible hazards. You’ll see that training workers, pre-job planning and taking the right precautions save lives. Please be advised. The scenes you are about to see deal with deaths at construction sites and might be disturbing for some people. All scenes are based on true stories.

Two workers were hired to caulk windows on a new three-story townhouse. There were overhead power lines located 20 feet from the house and about 25 feet above ground level. One worker was using a 40-foot metal extension ladder to reach and caulk the third story windows, while another worker was on the ground caulking windows. The ladder was extended to reach a vertical height of 31 feet above ground. The ladder’s base was set 8 feet from the side of the townhouse.

After the worker finished one window, he came down from the ladder. He tried to move by the ladder by himself, with the ladder still extended in the upright position. But the ladder was top heavy and too unstable and it fell backwards while the worker was still holding it. As it fell, the aluminum ladder contacted the overhead power line near the townhome. Because the worker was using a highly conductive metal ladder, it allowed the electrical current in the power lines to reach the worker. He died instantly.

Let’s look at the events leading up to this tragic incident, and see how it could have been prevented. Originally the worker climbed down the ladder and tried to move it by himself. Because the ladder was still in the upright position and extended, it was too hard to handle even though the worker was himself a safe distance from the power line. As a result, it fell over and hit the power line. Because the worker was holding the metal ladder when it hit the power line, it allowed current to pass through the worker’s body to the ground.

Now let’s take a look at the worker doing the same task safely: This time, before starting to work, the worker and his foreman inspect the area including checking for overhead power lines. After checking on the voltages with the utility company, the foreman and the worker discuss safe working distances from the power lines. The foreman reminds the worker of the need to keep himself and the ladder clear of the power lines at all times. As an added safety precaution a fiberglass ladder is selected for use in this area. While the fiberglass ladder is heavier, it has non-conductive side rails and two workers can safely handle it. As before, the worker climbs down the ladder to move to the second window, but this time he calls over to his co-worker to help move the ladder. The two workers first bring the extended section down, and then carry the ladder horizontally toward the second window to prevent the ladder from hitting the overhead power lines.

Now that you have seen how to perform this work safely, let’s go over some important points to prevent these types of electrocutions at work sites: All workers need to be trained about the hazards. Maintain clearance from overhead power lines. Working too close can expose the worker to an electric arc that could result in burns, a shock, or electrocution even if the worker does not contact the power line. In addition to maintaining clearance from overhead lines, use ladders with non-conductive side rails as an added safety precaution. Using ladders with non-conductive side rails is safer but not a guarantee of protection from an energized power line. In addition, ladders are not rated for electrical safety, so, it is important to always use safety precautions that maintain safe distances from overhead power lines.

Inspect ladders before and after each use. Only use ladders that are clean, dry and undamaged. For example, if a fiberglass ladder is not kept clean, dry, and in undamaged condition it can conduct electricity. Don’t carry or move extension ladders in the upright position. Get help moving ladders to keep control and prevent accidental contact with energized overhead power lines. If a ladder should accidentally hit an overhead power line do not touch it, quickly move away and call the electric utility company immediately. If appropriate clearance from an overhead power line cannot be met, contact the utility company to de-energize and ground the line or request the utility company install insulation over the lines to protect workers.

This example shows the importance of employers following OSHA standards to ensure that workers are provided with a safe workplace. These types of construction deaths are preventable. The protection measures shown here save workers’ lives. Use these protections on the job: it could be the difference between life and death. If you would like more information, contact OSHA at www.osha.gov or 1-800-321-OSHA. That’s 1-800-321-6742.