Investigators Study Why Equipment Failed to Save a Maine Lineman
Construction workers who plummet to their deaths while wearing their fall protection equipment always present a puzzle for investigators. So when John Plante, a 44-year-old lineman, fell Jan. 17 from a wooden utility pole while working on a Central Maine Power transmission project in Saco, Maine, no one could immediately explain why.
Plante fell more than 40 feet from a 95-ft wooden utility pole, says Don Rassiger, chief counsel for Plante's employer, Hawkeye LLC, a subsidiary of Willbos Utility T & D, Happauge, N.Y.
Hawkeye’s work on the $1.4 billion transmission project has been suspended indefinitely pending investigation, according to a statement by CMP, a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Augusta, Maine office is investigating the cause of the accident, expected to take about a month, a spokesman says. The Maine Office of the Attorney General in Augusta is also reviewing the case and Hawkeye is conducting an independent investigation.
Plante was hired in July as an apprentice lineman. “When he fell he was wearing a Buckingham belt with Jelco straps--an apparatus known in the industry as a 100% fall protection device, which has one harness and two belts,” Rassiger says.
“It is too early to say what happened, but we are taking the case seriously and will find the root cause to the extent possible,” Rassiger says. “My (internal safety department) investigators are turning over every stone, but we have no estimation on how long it will be,” he says.
Hawkeye is one of three primary transmission line contractors working on a $1.4-billion upgrade of CMP’s transmission lines and substations for Maine’s bulk power grid, a 345,000-volt transmission system, says the CMP spokesman. The other two transmission contractors include MYR Group, Rolling Meadows, Ill., and Irby Irby Construction, Jackson, Miss. A total of 360 suppliers are working on the project, the spokesman says.
CMP also ordered an immediate stand-down for all transmission construction workers to review climbing safety procedures, and all CMP crews began the day with a briefing on the accident and a safety review, the release stated.
Andy Batty, president of Buckingham, based in Binghamton, N.Y., says, “we do not know what happened, but heard from several sources that Mr. Plante was wearing a Buckingham body belt with Jelco wood pole fall restriction units attached.” Plante was not wearing the Buckingham Bucksqueeze which is considered 100% fall proof, he says.
“We have many contacts that we have been waiting to hear from, but no one is telling us what happened very directly at all,” he says.
OSHA records indicate that OSHA investigated hazards in two fall-from-height in construction-related violations, one in Westbury, N.Y in 2008 and Greenwich, Conn. in 2010, but both cases were informally settled and closed and no fines were paid.
OSHA records also indicate that on or about Dec. 14, 2007, a Hawkeye lineman working for Rochester Gas and Electric was setting poles for an electric power distribution project in Rochester when he was shocked by a 34.5-kilovolt power line. He ultimately died of his injuries.
Although an investigation in the Dec. 14 case found no electrical violations, the company was cited for lack of machine guarding. Hawkeye was originally fined a total of $30,000, but paid $5,000, records indicate.
Hawkeye Council Rassigner says he has no knowledge of those violations.