Compass General Construction, of Kirkland, Wash., is facing a large fine for workplace safety violations from the state’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for operating a crane too close to high-voltage power lines without taking proper safety precautions. Workers are hurt and killed every year when cranes come in contact with power lines and it’s a significant workplace safety issue, with very specific requirements that must be followed.
L&I cited Compass General Construction for two willful violations, the most serious, and one general violation. The company faces fines totaling $96,000.
The violations were discovered last May, just a few days after an L&I safety inspector visited the job site and went over the crane operation safety requirements with the site superintendent. At that time, there was a crane on site, but it was not near power lines.
A few days later, L&I received a referral from Seattle City Light that the crane was operating near the power line without the required safety precautions. L&I returned to the site and verified that the crane was operating near the power lines without a warning line, such as highly visible flagging or caution tape to keep the crane a safe distance away, or a dedicated spotter to alert the operator if he got too close.
As a result, Compass was cited for one willful violation for not appointing a lift director to oversee the crane lifts and rigging crew. The company was cited for a second willful violation for not ensuring that power-line safety requirements were met, including having an elevated warning line a safe distance from the power lines, along with a dedicated spotter. Each violation carries a penalty of $48,000.
Both violations are considered “willful,” because the L&I compliance officer went over the specific requirements with the site superintendent just three days earlier
Cranes and Power Lines a Known Hazard
Last September, two workers were severely injured and nearly killed while working near the same West Seattle power line when a high-voltage jolt of electricity traveled down a crane’s hoist line to the men below.
The dangers of cranes and overhead power lines are well known. There were nine deaths in Washington from crane contacts with power lines from 1999 to 2012, including a double fatality in 2010. L&I issued an alert in 2012, warning companies of the deadly hazard after receiving reports of six power line contacts by cranes in just six months.
Compass Placed on Severe Violator List
Along with the two willful violations for the recent incident, Compass General Construction was cited for one general violation for not documenting that the rigging supervisor had passed the required tests showing he was qualified.
As a result of the willful violations, Compass has been placed on the severe violator list and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist. The company has appealed the violations.
Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.