Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Farmer Died When Electrocuted While Welding Feed Bunker Wagon
On August 6, 2003, a 44-year-old male farmer was welding a feed bunker wagon when he was electrocuted. The portable 240-volt plug-in cord-connected Hobart welder was in disrepair. The power cord and the cables had damaged insulation exposing the conductors. The welder lead cables were at least 10 years old and were 12 feet long. The victim parked the feed bunker wagon near a wooden building that was filled with tools and junk metal. The victim had attached the ground cable to the feed bunker wagon. The welder was plugged into an outlet that had exposed conductors and, according to the police report, also had other items plugged into it. To allow the welding leads to reach the location of the feed bunker wagon, the victim connected two sets of welding cables and placed the un-insulated cable splices on bare dirt. The victim was lying on damp, bare ground and was sweating heavily, as indicated by his perspiration-soaked short sleeve shirt. An individual who had been previously working with the victim found the victim under the feed bunker wagon with the welder cables lying across his lap. The victim was wearing his welding helmet. He was not wearing gloves. The victim was sitting up under the trailer with his head resting on a metal support railing under the feed bunker wagon. According to the police report, the person who found the victim knelt down and put his hands on the soil and received a “large” shock. This individual turned off the welder and called for assistance. The victim was declared dead at the scene.
On August 6, 2003, a 44-year-old male farmer was welding a feed bunker wagon when he was electrocuted. MIFACE learned of this incident from a newspaper clipping. On May 24, 2004, MIFACE researchers interviewed the deceased’s caretaker and a family friend at the caretaker’s home. After the interview, the caretaker escorted the MIFACE researchers to the deceased’s residence and site of the fatal injury. MIFACE researchers were able to view both the welder and feed bunker wagon. The welding cables and leads had been previously removed from the shed. During the course of writing this report, the medical examiner’s report, death certificate, police department report and pictures were obtained. MIFACE was unable to interview the individual who discovered the victim. Figure 1, Figure 2, and Figures 4, 5, 6, and 7 were taken at the scene by the responding police agency. MIFACE has removed personal identifiers from the pictures. Figure 2 was taken by MIFACE at the time of the site visit.
The victim had been a farmer all of his life, born and raised on the residence. The deceased had owned between 28-60 head of cows, raising them for beef on 140 planted acres. To supplement his farm income, he would go to estate sales, auctions, etc., and buy old farm equipment, fix it up, and resell it. According to his caretaker, the victim was very handy and innovative. The caretaker taught the victim the “art” of welding when the victim was eight years old and he welded on his own since he was twelve years old. The victim was a “stick” welder, technically known as a shielded metal arc welder. The victim did not have a written farm safety program and had not attended any farm safety classes.
Another family lived in a separate residence on the victim’s property. They paid rent to the victim and helped him with the farm. An individual from this family is the person who discovered the victim. This family is not the “victim’s caretaker” referred to in this report. According to the caretaker, the victim was functionally impaired. Due to his functional impairment, the victim usually worked closely with another person when performing any type of work task. When the victim’s coworker would take a break, then both would take a break. The caretaker and family friend independently commented about the “reliability” and truthfulness of the individual who discovered the victim.
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The victim was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, work pants and tennis shoes. His caretaker stated that the victim had started working at approximately 5:00am to water and feed his cattle and perform other farm chores. He normally started the process of rebuilding equipment later in the day.
The victim was rebuilding a feed bunker wagon (See Figure 2). He backed the wagon into position with a tractor, parking the wagon on sandy soil outside of a small wooden shed that contained junk metal, the welder, tools, electrical receptacle box, and other debris. The wagon was 18 feet long, six feet wide and the wagon bed was 28 inches from the ground. The front wheel where the victim was found was approximately 4 feet 6 inches from the front of the wagon. The beam under the hay wagon that the victim was resting against when he was found was 21 inches above the ground.
The welder was an old Hobart brand A.C. arc welder (See Figure 1). The welder’s power cord covering and insulation was damaged which exposed the conductors (See Figure 3). The welder cables were not available to the MIFACE researchers. The condition of the cable insulation is unknown. The caretaker explained that they had been stolen shortly after the incident. The researchers were told that the first set of welding cables were approximately 10 years old and approximately 12-feet long. The second set of welding cables that were “spliced” to the first set was also not available for inspection. The victim welded with rods that were obtained as discards from other businesses or bought by the victim at auction. The welding rods were stored in the shed in open containers, on open shelves or on the floor.
According to the victim’s caretaker, the victim would conduct welding operations the same way each time due to his functional disability. The victim’s normal work procedure was to “splice” two sets of welding cables together and lay them down on the ground on a 2-inch x 12-inch piece of wood (See Figures 4-5). He would not insulate the splices for protection. The victim would wear a welding helmet and welding gloves during the welding operation. He would lay and/or stand on a blue rigid foam insulation board. The victim would position all equipment, turn on the welder (90 amps), and weld.
On the day of the incident, the victim appeared to be working on the last sections of the wagon. According to the police report, he was lying approximately 200 feet from the main power box for the welder that was located inside of the shed. The outlet the welder was plugged into had no cover plate, had visible exposed conductors, and had other items plugged into it. The medical examiner report stated that the victim was lying on damp ground. A nearby weather station had recorded 0.03 inches of rain the day of the incident. Over the past 7 days, nearly 3.5 inches of rain had fallen, although within the previous three days, only 0.04 inches had fallen.
Although it is unknown how the victim would usually “splice” the cables, on the day of the incident, he attached the electrode holder directly to the cable wire. The un-insulated connection was lying on bare ground.
The police report stated that the victim had attached the ground lead to the feed bunker wagon frame. The individual who found the victim gave the following account to the responding police. He had been working with the deceased as he welded on the wagon. He left the victim to work alone while he checked on another family member. He checked on the victim every 5-10 minutes to make sure that the victim was okay. When he came back the last time, he called out the victim’s name and the victim didn’t answer. He found victim not breathing, sitting up under the feed bunker wagon with his head resting on a metal railing. The welding rod and cables were lying across the victim’s lap. He could not see the victim’s face because the welding helmet was covering his head. He spoke several times to the victim and leaned over and touched the victim; the victim did not respond. Because the victim did not respond, he knelt down and placed his hands on the ground, presumably to help the victim. When his hands touched the ground, he stated he received a “large” shock. At this point, he turned off the welder and called for the victim’s caretaker. The caretaker arrived, called 911, and unplugged the welder from the electrical outlet. Emergency response arrived and the victim was declared dead at the scene.
The individual who found the victim told the police that in the past when the victim was welding, he would say “ouch” when he was operating the welder, indicating the victim might have received an electrical shock during the welding process.
According to his caretaker, some atypical circumstances were present on the day of the incident. The victim had not placed the spliced cables on the 2-inch x 12-inch piece of wood (See Figures 4-5). He was not wearing his welding gloves and he was not welding while lying on the rigid mat under him. He was working alone, which was highly unusual for him. Spare rods were lying next to the victim’s location (See Figure 6). He had placed the welding rod in the stinger but the rod had not been lit, indicating the victim had not been in the process of welding when he was electrocuted. The police report did not indicate that there were used rods found near the victim.
The police pictures taken at the time of the incident show a flexible foam mat was present under the feed bunker wagon; pictures indicate the victim was probably not lying on the mat while he was under the wagon (See Figure 7).
Although the air temperature was only 75 degrees, the victim had been sweating heavily as indicated by his perspiration–soaked short sleeve shirt. According to the police report and medical examiner report, there was no evidence of entrance and exit wounds from the electricity.
The event was apparently unwitnessed. A possible sequence of events is that while the welder was turned on, the victim placed the welding rod into the stinger. To gain some slack in the welding cables, he pulled the cables toward him and over his legs. If there was damage to the cable insulation and the conductor was exposed, as he dragged the energized conductor over his legs, the current could have gone to ground anywhere his body was in contact with the ground or through the wagon beam and ground connection to ground.
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Cause of Death
The cause of death as stated on the death certificate was electrocution. Toxicology performed indicated that the victim had elevated levels of an enzyme that is released when muscles are damaged, consistent with an electrocution.
Note: This incident happened on a privately owned farm that does not fall under the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) jurisdiction. Even though a business may not be subject to MIOSHA jurisdiction it is recommended that MIOSHA guidelines be followed to enhance safety in the workplace.
Maintain equipment in proper operating condition.
Maintaining equipment is integral to safe operation of the equipment so that it can provide the protection it was designed to do. It is unknown if the victim was able to make an association between the “ouch” he was receiving and the poorly maintained condition of the arc welder and cable leads. The individual who lived on the property and worked the farm with the victim permitted the victim to continue to use the defective welder. It is imperative that when items are known to be in need of repair that the items are taken out of service, repaired or scrapped. A new welder had been purchased, but was not being used. Insulation on welding cable leads must be maintained to ensure the integrity of the leads and to ensure that workers are not exposed to electrical current
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