Electrical Accidents on the Job & Legal Concerns
Electrical accidents can result in serious injuries. Electrocution is the second leading cause of death on construction sites. Some common hazards at construction sites and other locations are overhead and buried power lines. An employer is required to address the possibility of electrical accidents in its safety and health program. The employer is required to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations regulations that govern electricity.
Under 29 CFR 1926.416(a)(1), employees are not permitted to work any part of an electrical power circuit unless it is protected. The main risk of unprotected power circuits is fatal electrocution, but broken bones, burns, nerve damage and heart trouble are also potential hazards associated with unprotected circuits. In general employees should assume that overhead lines are energized unless they know otherwise and should de-energize and ground power lines that they are working near.
Using normal electrical equipment can result in short-circuits, exposed wires and insulation breaks. All electrical equipment should be examined before use and those with frayed cords or cracked tool casings. Risks are worsened when tools that can contact power lines are used and carry electricity from the circuit into the employee's body. For this reason, it may be important to minimize risks by using non-conductive wood or fiberglass ladders to work near power lines.
Liability for Electrical Accidents
Those who work around high voltage electrical lines should receive proper training. If you are a contractor or subcontractor's employee on a construction site who is hurt due to an electrical accident, the most immediate source of compensation may be through the workers' compensation system.
Workers' compensation laws apply regardless of fault to work injuries in all states (except to workers injured because they are drunk or high in some states). Contractors who cause an accident to a non-employee can be held liable for damages, however, in a personal injury lawsuit brought in civil court.
The improper transmission of high-voltage of electricity or the improper construction, installation or maintenance of power lines resulting in electrocution or other injuries may be the fault of either a utility corporation or a property owner. The side of the meter that the electricity was on when it escaped and hurt someone may affect liability.
Once electricity flows through a property owner's electric meter, the property owner is usually held responsible for electrical accidents. The National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) covers the design and construction of electrical systems on the property owner's side of the meter. You can hold a property owner liable for a faulty electrical system under a theory of premises liability.
However, a public utility may be liable for a faulty electrical system on its side of the meter or under a negligence theory or premises liability theory when it owns the transmissions poles and other equipment involved. For example, you may be able to sue an electrical company for injuries caused by wires that sag over a project or for failing to properly insulate an electrical line on site. Similarly, you may be able to hold the electrical company responsible for failing to insulate a live wire near trees. In some cases, multiple utilities may be involved and an expert will need to be retained to trace the source of the escape of electricity and to determine which utility had operational control.
Other potentially responsible parties are manufacturers. If a product you or a loved one used to protect himself against electrocution at a construction site has a defect or a danger that was not foreseeable, you may have a products liability case against a manufacturer.
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