Blog Post #99 – Electrocution the Result Of Various Issues

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada Magazine

Safe work procedures, employee training and use of personal protective equipment all would have helped prevent a Quebec worker’s electrocution earlier this year, provincial investigators say.

On June 11, 2008, the president of 9121-6028 Quebec Inc. was fatally injured at a construction site in the Quebec village of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac. Christian Poirier was holding an aluminum ladder when it contacted a 14,400-volt power line.

An accident investigation report — released September 30 by the Commission de la sante et de la securite du travail (CSST) — notes the death was caused by the unsafe method used to move the ladder and the lack of safe procedures when working around live lines.

In particular, says CSST spokesperson Eric Arseneault, there were no working rules between 9121-6028 Quebec. and the electrical company that is responsible for the overhead electrical wires. “We found that he did not have sufficient training or information about how to work safely close to those lines,” Arseneault reports.

On the day of the accident, he reports Poirier and another worker were initially installing cladding on a building. At one point, Poirier needed to reposition the ladder.

As he was carrying it vertically, Arseneault says the “upper part of the ladder came into contact” with the live line.

The CSST determined 9121-6028 Quebec, which served as the site’s project manager, acted in a manner that compromised employee safety, and has recommended a penalty of $5,000 to $20,000.

Following the accident, says Arseneault, the CSST issued several orders against the company, including the following:

– ensure no access to the accident site and nearby scaffolding;
– stop any work at heights or that involve handling ladders in close proximity to power lines;
– develop a written safe work procedure for handling ladders and distribute that information to employees; and,
– train workers on the dangers associated with work near power lines.

Arseneault notes that Quebec’s Code de securite pour les travaux de construction requires any worker or machinery that may contact an electrical line to remain specified distances away, based on the voltage of the current: three metres if the current is less than 125,000 volts; five metres if voltage is from 125,000 to 250,000 volts; eight metres for voltages of 250,000 to 550,000 volts; and 12 metres for currents more than 550,000 volts.

Last year, 56 workers were electrocuted or injured in electricity-related incidents in the province.

My opinion

In Ontario, the Construction regulations 213/91, section 188 (2) state,

“No object shall be brought closer to an energized overhead electrical conductor with a nominal phase-to-phase rating set out in Column 1 of the Table to this subsection than the distance specified opposite to it in Column 2.

Column 1 Column 2
Nominal phase-to-phase voltage rating Minimum distance

750 or more volts, but no more than 150,000 volts 3 metres
More than 150,000 but no more than 250,000 volts 4.5 metres
More than 250,000 volts 6 metres

Since the distances for MSAD (minimum safe approach distance) in Ontario are less than those in Quebec, it must be the lack of enforcement that caused the 56 electrocution or electrical-related accidents that happened in one year in Quebec. I do know that Ontario would have taken a more firm stance.

The maximum fine for an individual for a contravention of the ACT is $25,000 and a company can be fined up to $500,000 for the same or other contravention. I was very surprised to learn the small suggested fine of between $5,000 and $20,000 as an answer to the problem. How can a man’s life be worth only a few thousand dollars. Can this tiny fine really be a deterrent for all companies in the province of Quebec, let alone the rest of Canada? Quebec has a reputation for toughness when it comes to health and safety. Is there going to be compensation to his family if he had one?

The judge or magistrate sitting during this case needs to understand that healthcare in Canada is costing more and more. If accidents are dealt with properly and companies are made to pay a fair amount then this can be viewed as a proper corrective action for the province of Quebec. A deterrent needs to be in place for all employers and they need to fully understand that the health and safety of the worker is their responsibility and will be held accountable. The Quebec Minister involved needs to review the fine scale so that the number of future events will be minimized.

He/she may not have any other choice.

By the way, the same fine in Ontario, if previous examples can be used, would have been around $100,000 to as much as $600,000 as was the example for the death of the electrical apprentice during a lockout tagout procedure, and yes, that employee was trained in Quebec.

Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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