Overhead wires prove deadly for two workers; another two injured

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Two workers were killed and two injured in three separate electrocution incidents on Sept. 19.

All three incidents involved workers contacting overhead wires – two at constructions sites and one at a private home in Kawartha Lakes where workers trimming a hedge on an elevated work platform contacted a powerline. One worker died and the other was injured at that site.

In Vaughan, a Ministry of Labour report said a worker employed by Pontil Drilling Services sustained fatal injuries when a drill boom contacted overhead power lines.

In Scarborough, a worker for Darcon was injured when a tower crane hit an overhead powerline. The jobsite constructor is Paramount Structures.

“This is a stark reminder of the dangers of working near electricity and clearly shows there is a need for more to be done to keep workers safe,” James Barry, executive chairman of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, said in an online statement.

There have been 1,250 reported overhead powerline contacts in Ontario in the last 10 years, with an average of two deaths per year. Statistics from the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) show construction workers were involved in 60 per cent of powerline contacts occurring with dump trucks on construction sites.

Electrical fatalities in the general public have now outnumbered fatalities in workers, according to the Electrical Safety Authority’s Ontario Electrical Safety Report, the only report of its kind in Canada that presents the state of electrical safety.

Occupational deaths typically outnumber non-occupational, but in 2018, four fatalities occurred in the general public and two fatalities occurred in non-electrical occupations.

“Behind each statistic is a human story and these Ontarians unnecessarily lost their lives last year due to electrical harm,” said Dr. Joel Moody, chief public safety officer, electrical safety authority. “No family should have to endure the pain of losing a loved one when all electrical deaths are preventable.”

Two fatalities in the general public occurred from craft artists creating branch patterns on wood with an electrical product – a Lichtenberg generator – that had been disassembled and reassembled creating a hazard. One incident resulted in life-threatening critical injuries.

“The only difference between an injury and a fatality is luck,” Moody said. “Electricity is unforgiving and the data shows that when electrical injuries occur, if they are not fatal, they are severe and serious in nature.”

Of the nearly 1,000 electrical injuries that occur in Ontario, nearly half are in the general public (48 per cent) and 52 per cent occur at work. The total number of emergency department visits for electrical injuries have decreased by 44 per cent in the past 10 years; however, more than 80 per cent have been classified as critical injuries.

“We see a steady stream of patients with electrical injuries every year, and those injuries can often be life changing,” said Dr. Marc Jeschke, medical director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. “The more awareness people have about preventing dangerous situations that lead to serious injuries, the better.”

ESA uses data from the Ontario Electrical Safety Report to identify areas that present the greatest risk to Ontarians, to monitor changes in incidence and to identify emerging risks and trends. 

Other trends in the report include:

  • More than 70 per cent of electrical-related injuries and fatalities occur in four specific areas – powerline contact, electrical trade workers, misuse of electrical products and unapproved/counterfeit products, and electrical infrastructure fires
  • The average number of occupational deaths (among those who routinely work near electrical sources) has decreased by 7 per cent.
  • Cooking fires are the most common type of fire with electricity as the ignition source and
  • these types of fires are declining – there was a 10 per cent decrease from 2013 to 2017.
  • Utility-related deaths accounted for 50 per cent of all electrical-related fatalities in the
  • past 10 years. The number of utility-related equipment fatalities has been decreasing
  • since 2009. 
  • In 2018, there were two powerline fatalities reported. The five-year rolling average rate
  • for powerline electrocutions has decreased by 47 per cent when comparing 2009–2013
  • and 2014–2018.

“It is imperative that we continue to reduce the number of workers injured or killed by electricity,” said Moody. “These Ontarians go to work every day to provide for themselves and their families. Having a safe work environment shouldn’t be a privilege.”

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