Negligent Building Maintenance Causes Fatal Electrical Explosion

    Electrical Engineering Expert This case involves a maintenance worker who was killed by an electrical explosion while working in a residential building. The maintenance worker had recently been hired and was tasked with clearing out a storage space adjacent to the electrical control panel room. The control panel room housed an electric panel that powered the heating and cooling system as well as the bus ducts and the transformer. A recent storm had caused water to leak into the control panel room. Although the building superintendent was aware of this leak, she did not notify the maintenance worker. In addition, the area surrounding the room did not have any signage to indicate the ambient electrical hazards. In the course of completing his maintenance task, the bus duct exploded. The worker sustained burns covering more than 80% of his body and later died from his injuries. Further investigation of the incident revealed no record of the electrical bus system having ever been inspected. It was alleged the superintendent was negligent in the electrical maintenance of the building.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. Please describe your familiarity with electrical fires.
    • 2. Have you published or lectured on this topic?
    • 3. Based on the description, how might the incident have been avoided?

    Expert Witness Response E-009823

    I am a professional engineer with 20+ years of experience in electrical and electronic engineering failure analysis. My main engineering strength is technical aspects of electrical and electronic design, installation, maintenance, reliability, and usability. I have conducted forensic investigations and analysis of incidents involving bus duct failures, electrical shocks, and fatal electrocutions. I have previously served as a product and systems designer and have almost 2 years of experience as an expert witness in incident, forensic, and failure analysis. For this case, I would expect to examine areas involving the system design, installation, and maintenance of the bus duct equipment. If the signage on the equipment and in the surrounding area was limited or non-existent, there may be an installation issue. The date of installation is also an important factor with regards to regulations at the time. Not assessing the condition of the bus duct would indicate likely negligence on the part of the defendants. It is also very important that we know all the actions of the injured employee and the roofing company as a whole. If they disturbed the equipment in any way, we will need to know whether they took the appropriate precautions, if informed or not, and followed safe procedures. We will also need to know whether any possible physical interactions with the energized equipment was necessary to complete the contract, or if it was accidental in nature. This incident, as described, could have been avoided if the power to the bus duct was turned off for the time the workers were in the area. Another way to avoid this incident would have involved temporarily rerouting the electrical power during the work.

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