Public Service Commission
PSC Fines South Kentucky RECC For Electric Accident: Two contractor employees injured while replacing lines
The Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) has fined South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. (RECC) $9,250 for safety violations leading to an accident that injured two contractor employees.
In assessing the penalty, the PSC rejected South Kentucky’s argument that it is not responsible for actions of its contractors that violate the National Electric Safety Code (NESC), which governs utility practices in Kentucky.
“The statutory duty to comply with the NESC cannot be delegated and, as such, a utility may not ‘contract away’ its responsibility for compliance with its provisions,” the PSC said in an order issued Tuesday. “The NESC’s safety provisions apply to all electric utility construction workers in Kentucky, regardless of how a particular utility may choose to engage the services of its electrical construction workers or how it classifies their employment status.”
A Kentucky Court of Appeals decision issued in 2000 upheld the PSC’s position that contractors working for electric utilities have the same obligations to comply with the NESC as the utility’s own employees. In recent years, the PSC several times has imposed fines and required corrective actions of utilities as the result of safety violations committed by contractor employees.
The PSC action this week began with the investigation of an Aug. 5, 2008, accident in which two employees of Elliot Construction received minor electric burns during a project to replace a 7,200-volt line in Casey County. The employees were pulling the new line into place when it briefly came into contact with the old line, sending a jolt of current down the new line and the rope being used by the Elliot Construction employees.
PSC investigators identified a number of safety violations that contributed to the accident.
When the Elliot Construction crew made the well-intentioned decision to restore power to the old line so that an elderly couple could have the use of their air conditioner, the crew failed to take measures to fully protect themselves against the hazard posed by working close to a live wire. At a minimum, they should have worn insulated gloves or grounded the new wire, the PSC said.
When the new line snagged on vegetation about 1,000 feet from the workers, the workers should have stopped pulling on the line and removed it from the vegetation. Instead, they pulled harder, causing it to fly free, contact the old, live line and cause an electrical shock and burns to the employees.
It was only because the contact was brief that the injuries to workers were not severe or even fatal, the PSC said in its order.
Based on the evidence gathered in the case and a September 2009 hearing, the PSC determined that the Elliot Construction crew had committed five safety violations and imposed fines for each ranging from $1,500 to $2,250, for a total of $9,250.
The PSC did not require South Kentucky RECC to undertake any measures to improve its safety procedures, agreeing with the utility that it had not been provided with specific notice that such remedial measures might be imposed if it was found in violation of safety rules. The PSC routinely orders utility to improve safety practices following accidents.
Tuesday’s order and related materials are available on the PSC Web site, psc.ky.gov. The case number is 2009-00015.
The PSC is an independent agency attached for administrative purposes to the Energy and Environment Cabinet. It regulates more than 1,500 gas, water, sewer, electric and telecommunication utilities operating in Kentucky and has approximately 100 employees.