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Self-Employed Massachusetts Real Estate Developer/Builder Electrocuted by Construction Site Generator

Case: 92-MA-017
Release Date: September 17, 1993

SUMMARY

On August 03, 1992, a 56 year old real estate developer/builder was electrocuted at a new homesite under construction. While in the process of shutting down a construction site generator for the night, the victim apparently came into contact with a bare electrical conductor. Once the victim was found, emergency medical services were summoned and he was transported to the local hospital were he was pronounced dead approximately one hour later. The Massachusetts FACE Investigator concluded that to prevent similar occurrences in the future, employers should:

  • ensure that all construction site equipment is maintained and used as intended by the manufacturer of the equipment

 

INTRODUCTION

On August 4, 1993, the Massachusetts FACE Program Investigator was notified by the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries that a 56 year old real estate developer/builder had died resultant of electrocution on the previous day. On August 6, 1993, the MA FACE Investigator traveled to the area of the incident and interviewed municipal and state police responders, the municipal building inspector, town clerk and legal counsel who was representing the family on all matters relative to this incident. The police report, death certificate, multiple photographs and physical generator evidence (the latter which was returned to state police) were obtained during the investigation.

The victim was a self-employed real estate developer and builder who owned his company for 3 years and 3 months. He employed a sole individual as his assistant and had been on the site for 1 month and 17 days and did not employ a designated safety office or have any written safety policies and procedures in place for any task at the time of the incident.

 

INVESTIGATION

On August 3, 1993, the victim had labored on the construction of a new home on property he had owned and was developing for future occupancy. Having flooded the earthen basement floor to compact it in preparation for a concrete pour, a water pump was situated in the basement to pump the water out. To power the pump, a portable 220 volt construction site gas powered generator was in use. The investigation further revealed that the generator on/off switch was broken and that primary and secondary electrical cables were used in a manner that exposed bare conductors.

Because this was an unattended death, it is known that the victim went to his nearby home at the end of the workday for a couple of drinks and to put some steaks on the barbecue. He returned to the jobsite alone at approximately 6:30 p.m. to shut down the generator for the night. The generator and extension cables which powered the water pump had each been stripped at one end to expose bare conductors. They were then jury-rigged together and were suspended off the garage floor between 8 and 10 inches. As a consequence, usual plug and receptacle cable connections were not employed at the time of the incident, nor were the connections reinsulated in any manner prior to being placed into service. On the exposed extension cable end, aluminum clips were affixed to enable easy connection with the exposed wiring on the generator cable. This wiring system may have been implemented to more readily adapt the generator to more types of on-site electrical equipment.

As this was an unattended death, it is certain that at some point while working in the vicinity of, or during the disengagement of, the generator, the victim came into contact with the bare electrical conductor(s) which led to his death by electrocution. Black char marks on two of the aluminum extension cable connection clips indicated as well, that there was likely victim contact. Because the generator was running at full capacity when first responders arrived on-site, it was obvious that he had not yet shut it down. So how the victim contacted the energy source which led to his death remained initially unexplained.

Once autopsy results were known, it became apparent that an electrical current entry wound on the victim's calf suggested accidental conductor contact while working in the vicinity of, or during the attempted disengagement of, the generator. As a result, the victim was electrocuted and found partially beneath a piece of plywood when discovered by a friend of the family. Finding no pulse, the first responder immediately ran to the victim's daughter's house which was nearby to summon emergency medical services. Returning to the incident scene with the victim's son-in-law, immediate on-site CPR was administered without success until the emergency medical services until arrived. The victim was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead approximately one hour later.

 

CAUSE OF DEATH

The medical examiner listed the cause of death as electrocution.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS/DISCUSSION

Recommendation #1. Employers should ensure that all construction site equipment is maintained and used as intended by the manufacturer of the equipment.

Discussion: During the course of the investigation, several equipment related deficiencies were noted which may have been contributing factors in this incident. First, the 220 volt generator cable was stripped of its outer insulation at one end to expose the inner wiring which also had been stripped to expose bare conductors. Secondly, the extension cable which was used to connect the water pump to the generator cable was stripped of its outer insulation to expose the inner wiring which also had been stripped of its insulation to expose bare conductors. Thirdly, metal clips were attached to the ends of the exposed extension cable wiring which easily enabled connection of the exposed extension cable wiring to the exposed generator cable wiring. And lastly, the generator had a broken on/off switch. Consequently, it was learned that to shut off the generator, the choke was routinely engaged which would cause it to stall out. It is also worthy to note that the victim's primary electrician, during the course of estimating the homesite for electrical service costs, warned the victim that the generator set-up was extremely dangerous. While evident that generally accepted safety practices were compromised when previously insulated wiring was stripped to bare conductors, extra special emphasis should have been given to the hazards which were created by doing so. OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.403(b)(1) requires that employers ensure that all electrical equipment is free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Equipment that is malfunctioning or has been modified without the advice and consent of the manufacturer should immediately be removed from service until such time that it is repaired and meets or exceeds manufacturer recommendations for use.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Office of the Federal Register: Code of Federal Regulations, Labor 29, July 01, 1991, Part: 1926.403 (b)(1)

 

To contact Massachusetts State FACE program personnel regarding State-based FACE reports, please use information listed on the Contact Sheet on the NIOSH FACE web site Please contact In-house FACE program personnel regarding In-house FACE reports and to gain assistance when State-FACE program personnel cannot be reached.

 

 
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