Safety and OSHA News

Equipment touches power line, worker electrocuted; $448K OSHA fine

An employee died from injuries sustained while working with equipment that touched an overhead power line. A worker for the same company suffered injuries previously in a similar incident. Now the company faces almost half-a-million dollars in OSHA fines.

On Sept. 17, 2012, a crew employed by Highway Technologies, Inc., of Minneapolis was replacing guard rails on a 13-mile stretch of I-94 in Wisconsin.

Joseph Janisch, 34, was part of the crew. A piece of construction equipment struck an overhead power line. Janisch was found lying on the ground, unresponsive, according to local media reports.

OSHA issued 10 violations to Highway Technologies, six of them willful.

The six instance-by-instance willful violations are for failure to ensure that parts of the equipment being operated weren’t within 10 feet of a power line. These citations include instances of failure to ensure that any part of the machinery wasn’t within six feet of an overhead power line while the machinery was traveling beneath the lines.

The company also faces four serious violations for failure to:

  • identify electrical work zones
  • determine if any part of the equipment being operated would be closer than 20 feet of a power line
  • training each worker on safe clearance distances from power lines, and
  • evaluate that each employee understood the training and risks of working near overhead power lines.

Before this investigation, Highway Technologies had been inspected by OSHA 10 times since 2007, with citations for nine serious violations.

One of the inspections was conducted because of an employee’s injuries suffered from contacting an overhead power line while installing a highway sign.

Due to the type of hazards and violations cited, OSHA has placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). The program requires follow-up inspections to ensure future compliance. The SVEP focuses on employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. OSHA can inspect any of the employer’s facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

Highway Technologies has 15 business days from when it received the citations to decide whether to comply. One option is to appeal them to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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