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Painter, Plasterer Fined in Electrocutions

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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Two California contracting companies are facing nearly $200,000 in fines after two young workers were electrocuted, and a third severely injured, in separate incidents just days apart.

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has cited both Winlup Painting Inc. (DBA Certapro Painters) and Five Star Plastering for failing to protect their employees from energized overhead power lines during a week in July 2014.

The larger fine—$164,275 in all—was assessed against Five Star Plastering, of Laguna Hills, in the accident July 17 that killed Daniel Pohl, 23, a married father of one from Apple Valley.

The six violations include one designated "willful-serious"—OSHA's highest level of infraction.

KCAL-TV screen grab

An investigator examines the high school scene where Daniel Pohl, 23, was killed. Pohl's scaffold was less than six feet from energized power lines, and his company had not notified the local utility or school that it would be working in the area.

CertaPro/Winlup received four citations and fines totaling $30,410 in the death of Erick Ceron-Alegria, 25, who was electrocuted July 15.

Neither company responded Tuesday (Jan. 20) to a request for comment.

Unauthorized Work

Pohl was part of a three-person crew that was installing a banner for an upcoming football game at the Mission Viejo High School field. The three men were working 30 feet up from scaffolding they had erected when Pohl came in contact with the 12,000-volt lines.

The accident happened in view of spectators at a nearby baseball game, the Orange County Register reported. An off-duty sergeant with the County Sheriff’s Department and other witnesses ran to help.

One worker climbed the scaffolding to help Pohl but touched the wires with his neck when he stood up. The shock knocked the worker to the ground, the newspaper reported, but he survived.

KCAL-TV screen grab

Daniel and Britney Pohl have a baby son. "He was so excited about being able to take care of his family,” said his father. “He just wanted a good job and the chance to prove himself.”

Five Star had been working at the site on a volunteer basis, but without a permit or permission, when the accident occurred, the newspaper said. Five Star's owner Tom Blythe was a longtime coach of the football team and helped lead the team's Booster Club.

Booster Club president Kevin Bland told the Register, however, that the club had not asked Five Star to hang the banner and did not know the company was working at the time.

'He Just Wanted a Good Job'

The school district was not cited in the accident.

The citations against Five Star allege that the company was working less than six feet from the live lines when the accident occurred. Lines of up to 50,000 volts require six feet of clearance for workers.

Five Star Plastering

Five Star Plastering is a sponsor of its local high school football team and was hanging a banner for a game when the accident occurred. Neither the school nor the team's Booster Club had authorized the work.

Nor, the citations say, did Five Star:

  • Inspect the work site for the electrical hazard;
  • Train or instruct its employees about the hazard;
  • Provide helmets to its workers; or
  • Inform the utility company that it would be working around the lines.

Pohl had been on the job only a few weeks, his family said.

“He was so excited about being able to take care of his family,” Pohl's father, James, told the Register. “He just wanted a good job and the chance to prove himself.”

Painter's Death

Two days before the Mission Viejo accident, Ceron-Alegria was working from a boom lift to paint fourth-floor balcony railings when he came in contact with 66,000-volt lines.

That lift was closer than the required 11-foot minimum clearance (the required clearance distance increases with the power-line voltage).

Give Forward

Erick Ceron-Alegria, 25, "would go without things he wanted" to send money to his family in El Salvador, his friends said.

The citations against CertaPro/Winlup allege failure to:

  • Train a qualified person to operate the boom lift; and
  • Evaluate the hazards of operating a lift around energized lines.

In addition, Cal-OSHA said, CertaPro/Winlup allowed employees to enter and exit the lift while it was elevated and did not provide Ceron-Alegria with fall protection.

Ceron-Alegria was from El Salvador. He worked and sacrificed to send money back home to his mother and three brothers there, according to a Give Forward effort by friends to raise funds for his burial in his native country.

"Erick was a valued employee, a great friend to many, and a loving son," his friends said.


Tagged categories: Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; lift; North America; OSHA; Painting Contractors; Scaffolding; Worker training

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