Justice Served: Construction Firm Held Accountable for Risking Workers Lives

A Kirkland construction company has been hit with substantial fines for risking workers’ safety by operating a crane too close to high-voltage power lines without proper precautions. Every year workers are hurt and killed when cranes come in contact with power lines. Those accidents have become a major workplace safety issue, and very specific precautions are required.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited Compass General Construction for two willful violations, the most serious category of infraction. Compass General now faces fines up to $96,000.

The violations were noted last May, just two days after an L&I inspector surveyed the job site and reviewed the crane operation safety requirements with the site superintendent. During that time, a crane was located on site, but it was not situated next to the power lines.

A few days later, Seattle City Light notified L&I that the crane was working right next to the power line without the required safety precautions. L&I returned to the site and confirmed that the crane was indeed operating near the power lines without having installed a warning line (highly visible flagging or caution tape) to keep the crane a safe distance away. In addition, the construction company did not have a dedicated spotter to notify the operator if he or she came too close.

Consequently, Compass has been cited for one willful violation for failing to appoint a lift director to monitor the crane lifts and rigging crew. The company also received a second willful violation for failure to follow power-line safety requirements, including having an elevated warning line a safe distance away from power lines and a spotter. Both of those violations carry a $48,000 penalty.

The violations are regarded as “willful” since 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

In September last year, two employees of Spartan Concrete, were severely injured — and nearly killed — while working near the very same West Seattle power line when a high-voltage jolt of electricity traveled down a crane’s hoist line to the men below. Electrocution is responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries on construction sites every year in the US.

The risks of cranes and overhead power lines are well known. There were ten deaths in Washington from cranes touching power lines between 1999 to 2012, including a double fatality in 2010.

L&I issued an alert (Lni.wa.gov/safety/hazardalerts/CranesAndPowerlines.pdf) in 2012 warning companies of the deadly hazard after it received notification of six power line contacts by cranes in just six months.

Company on severe violator list

Along with the two willful violations charged for the recent incident, Compass General Construction was also cited with a general violation for failing to document that the rigging supervisor had passed the required exams proving he was qualified.

As a consequence 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 persist. The company has appealed the violations.

Penalties paid in connection with such citations are deposited in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, which aids workers and families of those who have been killed on the job.

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Emery Reddy