One week after a tree worker suffers severe electrical burns, a second incident results in death

August 21, 2013

With tree workers often working just a hair’s breadth away from power lines, employers must carefully follow OSHA requirements or they will put their employees’ lives in jeopardy, MassCOSH said in a statement today.       
The statement was made after a 26 year-old tree worker died yesterday from severe burn injuries after coming in contact with power lines in Holliston, Massachusetts. The incident took place just one week after a tree worker in Chelmsford suffered serious electrical burn injuries when branches fell on him carrying electrical wires.

"Coming in contact with live electrical overhead wires with equipment, tools, or parts of the body is a life-threatening hazard encountered by tree workers,” said Robert Burns, a MassCOSH senior occupational health trainer. “All care must be taken by surveying the work area for overhead electrical hazards before commencing any tree work." 

According to Burns, OSHA regulations require that all non-electrical trained workers (non-qualified workers) must stay at least 10 feet away from unprotected overhead electrical wires.

MassCOSH noted that the state’s Department of Public Health Occupational Health Surveillance Program had issued an alert urging employers to take the following steps:

  • Contact the public utility to arrange to have power lines de-energized and grounded, or insulated, prior to requiring employees to trim trees in close proximity to energized power lines;
  • Ensure that tree trimming employees maintain the minimum safe working distances specified by OSHA when working near energized power lines;
  • Develop, implementing and enforcing comprehensive safety programs that include, but are not limited to, electrical hazard control and fall protection; and
  • Provide workers exposed to the hazards of electrocution and/or severe burns with training in electrical safety.

In 2012, tree worker deaths made up one out of every eight workplace deaths in Massachusetts. Two workers died last year from falling branches, unable to escape the danger area due to debris on the ground. A third worker died from falling from a ladder and another fell from a tree and was struck by the branch he was cutting.
Tree hazards will continue to be increasingly a problem, with extreme weather causing the need for tree repair work to grow. Post-storm tree repair presents increased hazards, as trees tend to be more unstable and power lines often are down, creating electrical hazards.
“Our hearts go out to this family and the worker injured last week,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, MassCOSH’s executive director. “With summer and fall being peak seasons for tree maintenance, we urge employers think of these men as they prepare their employees for their day of work, and take every precaution to protect their safety.”