An employee of Atlanta Sand & Supply was pronounced dead the morning of July 9th at the Byron location where he worked. A brief investigation of the scene indicated that the worker, James Wallace Dean Jr., had been killed by electrocution, apparently by accident.
Of course, just because Dean does not appear to have been murdered does not mean that no one is responsible for his death. Electricity is a well-recognized and serious hazard of most workplaces, and there are many precautions that employers can and must take to keep workers safe from incidents such as this one.
Electrocution Deaths Are Preventable
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), most electrical accidents happen for one of three reasons:
- Unsafe work environments
- Unsafe equipment due to design flaws, poor installation, or poor maintenance
- Unsafe company policies for working around electricity
Very little information has been released about the nature of the accident that killed Dean. Reports do not mention whether he was working directly on the location’s electrical systems, whether he was qualified to do so, what equipment he was using, or whether any malfunctions have been identified.
As such, it’s not currently clear what Atlanta Sand & Supply would have needed to do to protect him, but it’s generally safe to assume that, for a tragedy like this to occur, something had to go terribly wrong.
This Was Not Atlanta Sand & Supply’s First Fatal Accident
It was only a few years ago that another worker was killed after falling into one of the sand hoppers at another Atlanta Sand & Supply location in nearby Roberta. Fall hazards and inadequately guarded machines are serious safety issues, and companies that fail to provide a safe workplace in one way will often fail in many others as well.
While there isn’t enough public information to be sure, it’s entirely possible that both workers could have fallen victim to missing guards, work policies that put them in dangerous contact with systems that had not been powered down, or a number of other interrelated safety issues.
OSHA Provides Extensive Guidance on Electrical Safety
In order to prevent electrical accidents in the workplace, OSHA sets forth detailed safety standards tailored to individual industries. There are also are some basic principles that apply in all scenarios:
- Electrical systems and tools should be insulated with non-conductive materials suitable to the expected voltage.
- Areas that cannot be insulated should be protected with guards and warning signs.
- Overhead high voltage lines should be well out of reach of work areas.
- All electrical systems and equipment, including portable devices like multimeters, should have fuses or other circuit breakers designed to cut power immediately in case of an overload or malfunction.
- Any repairs or maintenance performed on electrical systems should be done by a qualified individual, using proper protective gear and insulated tools, with power to the system securely shut down.
There are many ways electrical safety procedures can fail, but none of them are unavoidable. Whether Dean was assigned a task he wasn’t qualified for, given tools that weren’t properly insulated or maintained, or put to work on electrical systems that weren’t correctly installed and powered down, his family might very well have a case for wrongful death.