A recent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) decision shows that a worker’s electrocution was the result of an ambiguous safety rule and a poorly enforced disciplinary system.



Three linemen, wearing rubber gloves and sleeves, covered live power lines with rubber blankets and cover-ups. Once covered, the linemen removed their sleeves. One trainee lowered his bucket to retrieve equipment to secure the insulated blanket to the poles. However, the other employees didn’t wait for his return and used tape to secure the blanket around the pole. They removed an insulated blanket from one of the exposed power lines but failed to put their insulated rubber sleeves back on as they continued to work around the exposed line. As the trainee taped the insulated blanket to the pole, he contacted the exposed power line and collapsed into his bucket. The qualified employee returned the insulated blanket to the exposed power line before calling for help. The trainee who touched the live power line later died from his injuries.



The company and OSHA both investigated the incident. The company reviewed CCTV footage and found that the qualified employee re-covered the live power line before he called for help. He was fired for violating company safety rules and lying during an investigation.


Court Ruling

In court, the company claimed that the incident occurred due to unpreventable employee misconduct. OSHA argued that the company failed to prove that it adequately communicated its safety rules and effectively enforced them when it discovered violations.

The judge addressed the safety rule in question. The company’s Safe Work Rules Manual states that “workers are permitted and able to work safely without sleeves if there is only one exposed energized potential in the work area, but they must wear gloves and sleeves if there is more than one exposed potential in the work area.”

However, as stated in the manual, this rule wasn’t communicated to the electrocuted trainee. According to one company official, he was exempted from this training because he understood the rules surrounding cover-ups based on his evaluation.

The company also claimed that the trainee’s job in a similar position with a previous employer would have exposed him to a similar rule. Still, the judge pointed out that employers can’t rely on an employee’s prior experience to “preclude the need for specific instructions.”

The OSHRC administrative law judge agreed with OSHA and affirmed the citation and a $13,653 fine.


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About the Author


Pete Nemmers

Pete Nemmers serves as NASP’s Director of Training Development, bringing a wealth of expertise to the organization. With a background rooted in safety and training, Pete plays a pivotal role in shaping the training programs offered by NASP. Pete ensures that NASP remains at the forefront of safety education, equipping professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate and excel in the dynamic field of safety.
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