|NIOSH In-house FACE Report 2003-11
December 3, 2004
On March 25, 2003, a Hispanic painter/caulker (the victim) was electrocuted
when the aluminum 40-foot extension ladder he was attempting to re-position
contacted a 13.8 kilovolt overhead powerline. The victim was a member
of a five-man crew that had been subcontracted to paint and caulk windows
and siding on a newly constructed three-story private residence. He had
positioned his ladder between the side of the residence and a seven-foot-high
wooden fence frame located seven feet, four inches from the side of the
residence. A 13.8 kilovolt powerline was located approximately ten feet
from the side of the residence, and 24 feet above ground level. The victim
was working in an area approximately 26 feet above ground caulking windows
and siding. He climbed down the ladder and began to re-position it on
the side of the residence. One of the other crew members heard the victim
yell and turned to see the victim trying to hold the ladder as it fell
backward. As the ladder fell, it contacted the powerline. The victim was
holding onto the ladder and was electrocuted. A worker for another contractor
on site called 911 from a cell phone, then initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation
(CPR). Emergency rescue personnel transported the victim to a local hospital
where he was pronounced dead by the attending physician. NIOSH investigators
concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences, employers should
- eliminate the use of conductive ladders in proximity to energized
- conduct a jobsite survey during the planning phases of any construction
project to identify potential hazards, and to develop and implement
appropriate control measures for these hazards
- develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive safety and health training
program in language(s) and literacy level(s) of workers, which includes
training in hazard recognition and the avoidance of unsafe conditions
Additionally, prime contractors should
- ensure through contract language that all subcontractors implement
appropriate safety and health programs and training specific to the
work to be performed
Additionally, ladder manufacturers should
- consider affixing dual-language labels with graphics to provide hazard
warnings and instructions for safe use of ladders
On March 25, 2003, a Hispanic painter/caulker (the victim) was electrocuted
when the aluminum 40-foot extension ladder he was attempting to reposition
contacted a 13.8 kilovolt overhead powerline. On April 8, 2003, officials
of the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (SCOSHA)
notified the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
Division of Safety Research (DSR), of the incident. On June 19, 2003,
a DSR senior investigator and a safety and occupational health specialist
conducted an investigation of the incident. The incident was reviewed
with the SCOSHA compliance officer assigned to the case. Diagrams and
photographs of the incident site taken by SCOSHA shortly after the incident
were reviewed. No site visit was conducted because the project had been
completed. The victim’s employer and the other three painter/caulkers
returned to Mexico immediately following the incident and could not be
interviewed. The prime contractor and the subcontractor who contracted
with the victim’s employer were interviewed by telephone, and the
coroner and police reports were reviewed.
According to SCOSHA and the subcontractor, the victim’s employer
had entered the United States from Mexico approximately eight months prior
to the incident with his four-man crew. OSHA records indicate no evidence
of any safety and health training programs. The victim’s employer
could speak very limited English. The other four workers could not speak
or understand English. No other company information could be obtained.
The subcontractor who had contracted the victim’s employer said
that the employer had worked for him on two other jobs. No written contracts
existed for any of these jobs. The prime contractor and the hiring contractor
had safety and health programs written in English. No training was provided
to the employer by either.
The victim’s employer had been contracted to paint and caulk the
windows and siding joints of the prime contractor’s newly constructed
three-story private residence. The employer and four other painter/caulkers
were performing the work and had been on site for approximately two weeks.
The subcontractor who had contracted the employer had supplied the employer
with five, 40-foot Type 1, Heavy Duty/Industrial Type, 250-pound capacity,
aluminum extension ladders. Each ladder weighed approximately 85.5 pounds.
Their highest rated working length was 35 feet and their highest rated
standing level was 30 feet six inches. The ladder the victim was using
had no warning labels and was heavily paint spattered.
Work on the day of the incident began at 7:00 am. The victim was working
at a height of approximately 26 feet. He had positioned the extension
ladder against the side of the house, between the house and a seven-foot-high
wooden board fence frame located seven feet, four inches from the exterior
side of the residence (Diagram). An eight-foot-high
chain link fence was located behind the wooden fence, eight feet, seven
inches away from the edge of the house. A 13.8 kilovolt powerline, 24
feet above ground level, was located approximately ten feet from the exterior
side of the residence. The ladder was extended to a height of 31.5 feet.
After the victim was finished in the area in which he was working, he
descended the ladder in order to reposition it at the next window. As
the victim began to move the ladder, a co-worker heard him yell and turned
to see the ladder falling backward while the victim tried to hold it upright.
The ladder contacted the powerline and the victim fell to the ground.
The ladder fell away from the powerline. A worker working nearby for another
contractor on site called 911 from a cell phone, then initiated cardiopulmonary
resuscitation (CPR). Emergency rescue personnel transported the victim
to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead by the attending physician.
A burn mark on the ladder was located approximately six feet, 4 inches
from the top. A second burn mark on the ladder was located approximately
one foot, five inches from the top of the ladder. This mark could have
been created when the ladder again contacted the powerline as it was falling.
Diagram. Overhead view of incident
Cause of Death
The coroner listed the cause of death as accidental electrocution.
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Recommendation #1: Employers should eliminate the use of conductive
ladders in proximity to energized overhead powerlines.1
Discussion: Energized overhead powerlines
in proximity to a work area constitute a significant safety hazard. Extra
caution must be exercised when working near energized powerlines. Metal
ladders should not be used for electrical work or where a possibility
of contact with electrical conductors exists. Ladders made of non-conductive
materials, such as fiberglass, should be used for work near energized
electrical conductors. The powerline in this incident was located approximately
ten feet from the wall of the residence.
Recommendation #2. Employers should conduct a jobsite survey during the
planning phases of any construction project to identify potential hazards,
and to develop and implement appropriate control measures for these hazards.2
Discussion: Before beginning work at any
site, a competent persona should evaluate
the site to identify any potential hazards and ensure appropriate control
measures are implemented. At this site, a 13.8 kilovolt overhead powerline
was located in close proximity to the wall of the residence where the
painting and caulking was being performed. A safe distance between powerlines
and ladders, tools, and work materials should be maintained at all times.
In this incident, control measures may have included using non-conductive
ladders made of fiberglass. Employers should also instruct their employees
to lower extension ladders before moving them. This would make the ladders
more maneuverable and easier to handle. Once hazards are identified, appropriate
control measures should be incorporated into each daily work plan and
remain in place until the job is completed. All workers on site should
be made aware of these control measures.
Recommendation #3: Employers should develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive
safety and training program in language(s) and literacy level(s) of workers,
which includes training in hazard recognition and the avoidance of unsafe
conditions.1, 3, 4,
Discussion: A comprehensive safety and
training program should identify required safety training (e.g., working
around electricity and overhead powerlines, work site and ladder safety)
and document the training provided to workers. Although the prime contractor
and the hiring subcontractor had safety and health programs written in
English, no training was provided to the contracted employer or his employees
by either in any language. It could not be determined if the workers even
knew of the existing hazard of the overhead powerlines. Additional information
and recommendations relating to electrical safety can be obtained from
the NIOSH Electrical Safety, Safety and Health Electrical Trades Student
Prime contractors should ensure through contract language that all subcontractors
implement appropriate safety and health programs and training specific
to the work to be performed.
Discussion: Prime contractors should ensure
through contract language that all subcontractors have safety and health
training programs in place that address the tasks their workers are assigned
to perform. Contract language should require all subcontractors to identify
how they intend to implement a site-specific safety and health program
before the start of work. The subcontractors’ contract should contain
clear and concise language describing which party is responsible for a
given safety or health issue. Any differences should be negotiated before
work begins. Once the provision for these responsibilities has been established,
the respective parties should ensure that the provisions of the contract
regarding safety and heath are upheld through regular worksite inspections.
Ladder manufacturers should consider affixing dual language labels with
graphics to provide hazard warnings and instructions for safe use of ladders.6-8
Discussion: Over the past several years,
the United States has seen a dramatic increase in its population of Hispanic,
Spanish-speaking citizens who are entering the work force. The Bureau
of Labor Statistics estimated 15.4 million employed Hispanics in 2000,
making up 10.9% of the U.S. workforce. The Hispanic workforce increased
43% between 1990 and 2000, and is expected to increase another 36% by
2010 to nearly 21 million employed Hispanic workers.
Having employees who speak limited or no English presents unique challenges.
It is important for Spanish-speaking employees to be able to interpret
instruction and warning labels on work equipment such as ladders. While
some equipment is bought or shipped with manufacturers’ documentation
in at least one language other than English, many instruction and warning
labels on the equipment are only in English. A multi-language label with
a graphic or picture label could offer an additional warning to workers
of potential hazards.
a Competent person is one who is capable of identifying existing and
predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are
unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authority
to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.
- NIOSH . Worker Deaths by Electrocution, A Summary of NIOSH Surveillance
and Investigative Findings. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-131.
- Code of Federal Regulations 2001 edition. 29 CFR 1926.32(f). General
Safety and Health Provisions. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Printing Office,
Office of the Federal Register.
- Code of Federal Regulations 2001 edition. 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2). Safety
Training and Education. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Printing Office, Office
of the Federal Register.
- ANSI . Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and
Environmental Training. Des Plaines, Illinois: American Society of Safety
- [NIOSH 2002]. Electrical Safety, Safety and Health Electrical Trades
Student Manual. Cincinnati, OH: U. S. Department of Health and Human
Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002-123.
- Langdon, K . Making the workplace safe for Spanish-speaking
employees. Contributing writer Metal Fabricating Source, Thefabricator.com.
Rockford, IL: Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, June 26,
- Lopez M, Mora M, . The Labor Market Effects of Bilingual Education
Among Hispanic Workers. Sterling, VA: READ Perspectives.
- BLS . BLS Releases 2000-2010 Employment Projections. [http://www.bls.gov/news.release/History/ecopro_12032001.txt].
Date accessed: March 26, 2004. (Link updated 3/20/2008)
This investigation was conducted by Virgil Casini, Senior Investigator,
and Nancy T. Romano, Safety and Occupational Health Specialist, Fatality
Investigations Team, Surveillance and Field Investigations Branch, Division
of Safety Research.