Since 1992, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track, overhead power lines have caused more work-related electrical injuries than any other type of electrical contact. They were also the No. 1 cause of electrical fatalities from 1992 through 2010, accounting for 44 percent.
While power line construction and electrical work see the highest number of overhead power line (OHPL)-related fatalities, a new paper presented last month found that working around — but not directly with — OHPLs presents the greatest risk.
The paper, co-presented by Brett Brenner, president of Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and James C. Cawley, senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), examined all electrical cases investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2000-2011.
Across all industries, “incidental” contact with OHPLs (while performing duties not related to the power line) accounted for 68 percent of fatalities. That compares to 26 percent of the deaths that involved OHPL maintenance, and just 5 percent of deaths that involved OHPL construction. (In 1 percent of cases, the work being conducted was not known.)
As the report states, “This lower number of OHPL fatalities in the face of very high hazard exposure can be attributed, in part, to the high level of safety training, hazard awareness and work planning of those employees who work in proximity to OHPLs.”
That might explain why the roofing industry saw more OHPL-related fatalities than electrical services (utilities). Another non-electrical field, ornamental shrub and tree services, ranked fifth, followed by asbestos and lead paint removal services, painting, and concrete work.
The researchers determined that “Too often a desire for work expediency and a failure to recognize the imminent OHPL hazard combine to produce tragic results.” Many of the electrocutions outside of the electrical industry involved conductive materials, such as ladders, aluminum siding, sheet metal, metallic poles and handheld tools.
ESFI has partnered with the non-profit AgSafe to educate agricultural workers about OHPL hazards in their workplaces, and hopes to do the same with other industries.