The shocking reality

07 May 2008

You don't have to look very hard to see which issue in the crane and rigging industry seems to make the most headlines. In fact, pardon the pun, but sparks are flying all over the country and sadly, people are paying the ultimate price. About 30 seconds into a Google search and I had found a long list of headlines, proving just how serious this issue is.

Miami Herald, February 12, 2007: Miami Man Shocked After Crane Hits Power Line

Express-Times, November 25, 2006: 35-year-old man dies after crane hits power lines at township home. Worker's van destroyed in ensuing fire.

Miami Herald, December 9, 2006: Two Miami construction workers zapped by 13,000 volts.

Power lines and cranes go together like oil and water or salt and open wounds. According to OSHA, there are 350 electrocutions on construction sites every year, and 30% of those come from crane to power line contact. OSHA Fatal Facts accident summaries numbers 17, 33, and 44 describe the following incidents:

• Employees were moving a steel canopy structure using a ”boom crane” truck. The boom cable made contact with a 7200 volt electrical power distribution line, electrocuting the operator of the crane; he was the foreman at the site.

• Three employees were taking earth samples using a core sampling rig with a 22-foot high tower. As they removed the sampling rod, the rod struck a 4,160 volt electrical power line directly above the work area. The employee handling the sampling rod and the employee handling a guy wire attached to the sampling rod were electrocuted, while the third employee, who also was handling the sampling rod, was severely shocked.

• One employee was unloading a 40-foot wood telephone pole from a pipe rack mounted on a truck crane. The truck operator raised the 17-foot boom to provide sufficient distance for the employee to place a cable sling around the pole and then attach the sling to the crane hook. However, in raising the boom, the operator made contact with overhead power lines. The victim reached for the metal bicycle-chain style come-along which secured the pole to the truck rack and received a fatal electrical shock.

The list of accidents that result from power line mishaps continues to grow and one can't help but wonder why. If you took a quick survey of almost everyone on a jobsite and asked them if they thought that power lines were dangerous you would be hard pressed to find someone who said no. It seems that everyone knows the dangers that power lines represent, yet still the OSHA reportable incidents climb. So why is this? Why an issue is as widely understood as power line safety still the number one cause of crane related deaths?

Maybe it's complacency. Maybe We've heard the same speech over and over and developed a proverbial sense of selective hearing. Maybe the fact that we all grew up in a neighborhood with a pair of Nikes wrapped around a power line has caused us to look right past them. Many investigations into the root cause of power lines accidents conclude that the operator “just didn't see them,” or worse, had an insufficient understanding of the hazards they posed.


As with many construction industry accidents, education is at the forefront of prevention. Working with your employees to increase their awareness and correct their misconceptions is an optimal start, but the real question you might have is this: What is the government doing to assist crane owners in addressing this problem?

In June of 2003 C-DAC was formed to function as a part of OSHA's rulemaking process to revise the existing standards for cranes and derricks in construction. Then, on July 13, 2004, a consensus was reached on language for the revised standard. Key provisions of the C-DAC proposal included:

1 The scope section covers a wide range of new types of cranes that have been developed over the past 30 years.

2 A qualified person must address a list of key hazards associated with equipment assembly and disassembly.

3 Ground conditions must be made adequate for crane set-up to help prevent tip-overs.

4 In order to prevent electrocution, a leading cause of crane-related fatalities, employers must choose from a list of options for ensuring that equipment does not come with in a prescribed distance of power lines. When working closer than that distance, a specified list of measures must be taken.

5 After a phase-in period, crane operators will have to be certified by either: (1) any crane operator testing organization approved by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, or (2) the employer's own qualification program, which must be audited by a testing organization approved auditor.

6 Signal persons must meet specified qualification requirements.

7 Updated requirements for cranes on barges.

8 Safety devices, operational aids, signals, specific types of equipment (such as derricks and tower cranes), inspections, wire rope, prototype design and testing, crushing and overhead hazards, fall protection and equipment modification are also addressed.

The new C-DAC document hopes to bring current a standard that is almost 40 years old by taking some of the lessons we have learned in those years and using them to assist in establishing a safer industry. In terms of preventing electrocutions, here are some of the key proposed changes to the existing standard found in Section 1408 Power Line Safety (up to 350 kV) – crane operations:

1 The crane operator must identify the work zone by demarcating boundaries and identify if any part of the crane working in the “work zone” could get with in 20 feet of a power line.

2 If any part of the crane is able to get with in 20 feet of a power line then the operator must receive verification of the voltage from the controlling entity and (1) de-energize and ground (2) maintain a 20 foot clearance or (3) use Table A to determine the clearance.

3 In order to prevent electrocution where encroachment precautions are required under options (2) or (3), at least one of the following measures must be implemented.

a. A proximity alarm.

b. A dedicated spotter.

c. A range control warning device.

d. A device that limits the range of movement.

e. An insulating link/device.

4 Voltage information. Where Options (3) is used, operators of power lines must provide the requested voltage information with in two working days of the employer's request.

5 Training – Operators and crew assigned to work with the equipment shall be trained with procedures to be followed in the event of electrical contact with a power line.

Reducing the amount of accidents your company has every year is a key component to managing your overall risk. Direct costs from power line accidents such as medical payments, increased workers compensation premiums, replacement of damaged equipment, and liability lawsuits coupled with indirect costs such as reduced productivity, delays, and training and orienting new workers can add up to more than just a couple of Ben Franklins missing from your wallet.

The cost of complacency or the mishaps from misconceptions affect people. The tragedy of an electrocution can change the lives of workers and their families forever. We have an obligation to do all that we can to ensure that we are increasing awareness and decreasing accidents. Essentially, we have to realize that true risk management goes further than the financial elements of business, and that it includes what is, perhaps, the most important element of all: the human element.

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