John Bowman and other crewmembers were sending a line through a conduit with compressed air. The line “got away from them”, went up into the air about 75 feet, and at some point touched the high voltage line. According to the news story, Mr. Bowman was still holding the line when it made contact. The February 16 police brief reports that Mr. Bowman tried to run and yelled, “I think it got me” just before he collapsed.
He went into cardiac arrest at the scene; he was revived and taken to Orange Park Medical Center and later transferred to a hospital in Gainesville, FL. He was listed in critical condition.
The contact of the wayward line with the high voltage power line was enough to blow several transformers and cut power to hundreds of area customers.
It is unclear from the news story if the pull rope struck the line, or if it was in fact the fiber line itself. Typically fiber optic cable is non-conductive, but fiber optic cable can come in an outer wrap that is in fact conductive (subsequently it is called Conductive Fiber Optic Cable). Regardless, either the pull string or rope (if used ON power lines it would be required to be non-conductive meeting ASTM F1701 but this may have been other rope) or the fiber cable made contact and caused severe injury to the employee. When the crew blew it through the conduit using air pressure, it exited the conduit rapidly, went up in the air, and struck live power lines. Cotton or any type of rope besides polypropylene meeting ASTM F1701 is conductive at higher voltages. OSHA specifies non-conductive rope around electrical exposures (OSHA 1910.335(a)(2)(i)(B)).
Most likely, an event like this could not be repeated even if attempted. Often it seems that some accidents are in no way preventable. The pre-job assessment did not consider this to even be a possibility. Proper training would have emphasized to let the line go if near a power line or required wearing properly rated gloves for the potential exposure.
The reports call the worker a “lineman”. Typically fiber optic line workers are often not trained as full journeyman linemen, but an 18-year-old has had NO time to be qualified for line work. Even as a ground crew member, training on avoidance of hazards is required. OSHA 1910.269 and the OSHA 1910.300 series would require training for working on or near power lines with adequate knowledge to prevent this incident.
This very unfortunate injury serves as a humbling reminder to assess job sites for safety, take five steps back and consider all aspects of scene safety. As I used to teach firefighters as a Firefighter Instructor, let’s all be certain to stop and ask the magic question, “What on this scene can kill or injure me?”
It is critical to consider often overlooked situations like frayed electrical cords, machinery with missing guards, noises that exceed safe levels, tripping hazards, and both pedestrian and vehicle traffic. In this case, overhead power lines were the culprit. Always remember to ask the magic question and consider any and all work site hazards.
Our thoughts and prayers are with this young man.
We will keep you posted as we find out more.