With tree workers often working just a hair’s breadth away from power lines, employers must carefully follow OSHA requirements or they will put their employees’ lives in jeopardy, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) said today, following two serious incidents related to commercial tree trimming.
The statement was made after a 26-year-old worker for a commercial tree cutting company died Aug. 20 from severe burn injuries after his chain saw hit power lines in Holliston, Mass. The incident took place just one week after a tree worker in Chelmsford, Mass., suffered serious electrical burn injuries when branches entwined with electrical wires fell on him.
Police said the second man was working in a bucket truck when his saw came into contact with electrical wires, causing the man to be electrocuted and the bucket of the truck to catch on fire. The man was in the burning bucket when rescue crews arrived. Another worker used a truck to push the bucket away from the electrified line so rescuers could free the man without endangering themselves.
The man was rushed to the hospital, where he died. “He had burns pretty much over his whole body – his chest, legs. I’m sure he breathed in a lot of heat,” Holliston Deputy Fire Chief Jim Moore told the Sun Chronicle, a local newspaper.
“Coming in contact with live electrical overhead wires with equipment, tools or parts of the body is a life-threatening hazard encountered by tree workers,” said Robert Burns, a MassCOSH senior occupational health trainer. “All care must be taken by surveying the work area for overhead electrical hazards before commencing any tree work.”
According to Burns, OSHA regulations require that all non-electrical trained workers (non-qualified workers) must stay at least 10 feet away from unprotected overhead electrical wires.
The state’s Department of Public Health Occupational Health Surveillance Program had issued an alert urging employers to take the following steps:
- Contact the public utility to arrange to have power lines de-energized and grounded – or insulated – prior to requiring employees to trim trees in close proximity to energized power lines;
- Ensure that tree trimming employees maintain the minimum safe working distances specified by OSHA when working near energized power lines;
- Develop, implement and enforc comprehensive safety programs that include, but are not limited to, electrical hazard control and fall protection; and
- Provide workers exposed to the hazards of electrocution and/or severe burns with training in electrical safety;
In 2012, tree worker deaths made up one out of every eight workplace deaths in Massachusetts. Two workers died last year from falling branches because they were unable to escape the danger area due to debris on the ground. A third worker died from falling from a ladder and another fell from a tree and was struck by the branch he was cutting.
Tree hazards will continue to be a problem, with extreme weather causing the need for tree repair work to grow. Post-storm tree repair presents increased hazards, as trees tend to be more unstable and power lines often are down, creating electrical hazards.
“Our hearts go out to this family and the worker injured last week,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, MassCOSH’s executive director. “With summer and fall being peak seasons for tree maintenance, we urge employers think of these men as they prepare their employees for their day of work, and take every precaution to protect their safety.”