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How Utility Companies Should Protect Their Employees from Electrical Accidents

Electric men working

Michigan Utility Workers Have Dangerous Jobs

It’s no doubt utility crew workers have some of the toughest industry jobs out there. While heavily trained in safety, these electric, natural gas, water, sewer and other utility workers often face obstacles like overexertion, heat and cold stressors, and exposure to electricity and gases, or equipment issues that could harm themselves on a daily basis. If employers are not adhering to, and complying, with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and safety policies, life-long or even deadly injuries are sure to occur.

As spring is quickly approaching, and we are bound to see more Michigan utility workers outside spending time on projects, so our legal team would like to take some time to review OSHA policies that may help them stay safe. The following is a glance at some of the safety standards put into place by OSHA to prevent injuries and worker deaths related to electrical work and fall protection hazards for utility workers.

Worksite Conditions Can Be Gateway to Slips, Trips, or Falls

The leading cause of worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the utility-like industries are falls with being struck by an object, electrocuted, and caught-in/between ranking not far behind. Utility workers should follow these steps provided by OSHA to protect themselves from deadly falls.

  • Identify all potential tripping and fall hazards before work starts.
  • Look for fall hazards such as unprotected floor openings/edges, shafts, skylights, stairwells, and roof openings/edges.
  • Pay attention when walking, and do not rush.
  • Walk with feet pointed slightly outward.
  • Make wide turns at corners.
  • Inspect fall protection equipment for defects before use.
  • Select, wear, and use fall protection equipment appropriate for the task.
  • Secure and stabilize all ladders before climbing them.
  • Never stand on the top rung/step of a ladder.
  • Use handrails when you go up or down stairs.
  • Practice good housekeeping. Keep cords, welding leads and air hoses out of walkways or adjacent work areas.
  • Keep flooring in good condition.
  • Have a flashlight handy in case you enter a room with little or no lighting.
  • Ensure views are unobstructed.

If a task requires a ladder, workers must be trained on ladder safety. The National Safety Council recommends these tips for reducing common ladder fall hazards:

  • Choose the right ladder for the job and make sure you have received training on how to use it properly.
  • Place the base of the ladder on a firm, solid surface.
  • Wear clean, dry, slip-resistant shoes and use ladders with slip-resistant feet.
  • Never use a ladder as a bridge or scaffold.
  • Descend ladders one rung at a time and don’t jump off.

If a utility company or contractor fails to take reasonable steps to guard against certain work site falls, it is likely workers will face a high degree of risks, leaving their employer liable for injuries or deaths that occur on the work site.

Safe Work Practices Can Protect Against Electrical Injuries

Between 1992 through 2013, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) recorded a total of 5587 fatal electrical injuries, an average of 254 fatal electrical injuries each year. Of these injuries, 5527 (99 percent of the total) were reported to be electrocutions, while less than one percent of the fatalities were due to burns. In 2017, a Michigan utility worker was performing a transformer inspection when he was killed. According to OSHA’s inspection details, “As the employee was assisting in putting lugs on wires for connection to the new transformer, when he dropped a large crescent wrench into a bus duct. The employee reached with his left hand to retrieve the wrench, contacting energized parts, and was electrocuted.”

Electrical accidents are largely preventable through safe work practices. OSHA has identified several practices to help protect workers against electrical hazards. Examples of these practices include the following:

  • De-energizing electric equipment before inspection or repair.
  • Keeping electric tools properly maintained.
  • Exercising caution when working near energized lines.

Employees who work directly with electricity should also use the personal protective equipment required for the jobs they perform. This equipment may include rubber insulating gloves, hoods, sleeves, matting, blankets, line hose, and industrial protective helmets designed to reduce electric shock hazard. All help reduce the risk of electrical accidents.

Companies Need a Safety Plan to Develop Best Practices

The Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C. support companies who treat safety inspections as a regular part of their daily routine and are present and observing employees work habits and test equipment to ensure proper performance and injury prevention. Employers should be making it a point to meet regularly with members of the safety team and use these opportunities to discuss safety issues, work site safety concerns, new safety rules, procedures or regulations, safety milestones or accomplishments, and provide safety training or education for workers. After all, it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure appropriate measures are taken to maintain a safe and productive work environment.

OSHA defines the utilities sector as establishments engaged in the provision of the following utility services: electric power, natural gas, steam supply, water supply, and sewage removal. These utility workers have a right to a safe workplace. Michigan workers who feel unsafe should contact MIOSHA and should never feel unable to report and discuss violations. Retaliation by an employer or other employees for speaking up is not allowed under the law. 

Protect Your Legal Rights

The Michigan worker’s compensation system provides benefits to workers who are injured on the job or suffer an occupational disease arising out of and in the scope of employment. If a loved one has been killed as a result of the negligence of someone else, it is essential you contact a Michigan wrongful death lawyer to make sure you receive the benefits and compensation you are entitled to.

The Lee Steinberg Law Firm are Michigan’s utility worker accident experts, with a history of representing these special workers for over 40 years. Let our Michigan workplace accident attorneys help you and fight for the compensation you deserve. Please call 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) or fill out the Free Case Evaluation Form so we can answer any questions you may have about Michigan utility accident law and Michigan work site accidents.