Electrocution Allegedly Due to Negligence in Electrical Utilities Engineering

This case study explores an incident of non-fatal electrocution due to a downed power line, allegedly caused by the negligence of a power company in securing the line and maintaining tree removal services.

ByExpert Institute

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Published on February 6, 2024

Downed power line

Case Overview

This case study delves into an incident involving a non-fatal electrocution that occurred in November, resulting from a downed power line. The power line was brought down by a dead ash tree during a windstorm, which fell onto an RV parked behind the house. This caused an electrical charge to flow into the house, sparking at the electrical outlet.

In an attempt to mitigate potential fire hazards, the individual turned off the main power and coiled the cord to remove it from the house. This led to their electrocution. Notably, this was not the first instance of a downed power line on this property; there had been a similar occurrence just months prior.

Allegations have been made against the power company for negligence in securing the power line properly and maintaining tree removal services. An expert in electrical and utilities engineering was sought to review this case.

Questions to the expert and their responses

Q1

Can you provide some insight into your professional background as an engineer, specifically relating to working for an electric/utility company that adheres to NESC electrical safety guidelines?

Over my 35-year career, I’ve held positions as an Electrical Transmission and Distribution engineer, Operations Director, and Director of Transmission and Distribution.

My work involves designing, maintaining, and operating these types of systems. I’ve designed hundreds of miles of distribution power lines and investigated numerous accidents for my former employers.

Additionally, I spent 20 years on NESC Subcommittee 8, currently serving as Secretary for this subcommittee that writes NESC rules for worker safety. I’ve also taught NESC classes nationally and internationally.

Q2

What responsibilities does a utility company generally have to ensure their contracted tree removal service adequately performs maintenance to prevent similar situations?

A utility company is responsible for meeting NESC requirements and any additional requirements set by their regulatory body. This includes checking the clamps used for sufficient holding strength and adhering to a proper tree trimming policy. It’s also crucial to maintain system inspection records and identify known hazards.

Q3

Have you ever reviewed a similar case? If so, could you elaborate on your findings?

Yes, I have investigated many accidents involving these types of issues during my career.

Each case requires specific data from the utility company to determine if they meet NESC requirements. For instance, in this case, it would be helpful to review the work order from the last time the line was down on this property. This could reveal whether a DTE employee recommended follow-up action and performed.

About the expert

This expert boasts over three decades of experience in electric transmission and distribution, holding a BS and double MS in electrical engineering and engineering management. Their expertise spans electric line and substation design, accident investigation, project and outage management, NESC code compliance, and arc flash mitigation. Having held positions such as Director of Engineering at an Electric Cooperative and Manager of Engineering at a City Utilities company, they currently serve as a Principal at an engineering services firm.

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