Concerned citizens are bulwark against electrocution

After a twice-fallen power line nearly electrocutes a mail carrier, a concerned citizen reaches out to an electrocution lawyer for safety advice

To be the bulwark against electrocution, concerned citizens need to speak out

The best way to protect ourselves from electrocution and electrical shock injuries caused by downed and negligently maintained power lines is us.

It’s everyday people.

Friends and neighbors and people with the willingness to speak up – and speak out – on behalf of our families and our communities can prevent electrocution before tragedy strikes. We can together save lives.

For 35 years, I’ve practiced law as an electrocution lawyer, helping people and families whose lives have been cut short. It’s meaningful work protecting people and making our communities safer from deteriorating infrastructure and other electrical dangers, but it is also always after it is too late – after tragedy has struck.

I started this electrocution law blog to make a difference before tragedy strikes. Recently, I had the true pleasure of hearing from one such concerned citizen, who had reached out to me for legal advice about what he could do to fix a dangerous situation in his neighborhood that was being neglected by his local power company.

Specifically, the concerned citizen told me that, during a period of just a couple days, a mail carrier had been nearly electrocuted by a power line that had already fallen twice. The downed wire was believed to be related to the failure of an overhead primary distribution conductor.

I responded to this concerned public citizen with the following message:

“Thank you for contacting our website. It’s stories like yours that keep us up at night.

“Without seeing photographs of the span that failed, with specific attention to the splice count, and the age of the infrastructure, it’s difficult to be too specific. If you would send me some photos, and also photograph the pole tag on the nearest pole, which should give clues as to the age of the infrastructure involved, I would be happy to refine what I’m about to say.

“I hear you saying that an overhead primary distribution conductor failed and fell twice, in recent days. Did it fail the second time at the splice that was installed to repair the first failure, or at another location on the conductor? Are you certain that the same conductor failed twice, or did different conductors within the same span fail? Also, you suggest that someone shooting birds on the wire may have damaged the wire (powerline; phase; conductor; wire; are all equivalent terms). Do you have personal knowledge of that, or are you speculating?

“Distribution conductors are not insulated in the conventional sense, with dielectric coating. The industry refers to them as being ‘air insulated’ or ‘insulated by isolation.’ The only protection for people in the vicinity is the elevation they are situated above ground. Specific vertical clearances are set forth in, and mandated by, the National Electric Safety Code. Your state’s Public Utilities Commission or Public Service Commission requires that the utility comply with some version of the NESC. When wires fail and fall, people die. We have sadly represented families who have experienced that tragic fact.

“Aging power distribution infrastructure, and investor owned utility corporate structures, have resulted in inconsistent inspection/maintenance practices, and using many components until they fail. Responsible preventive and reactive maintenance practices, and prudent inspection protocols/schedules, are necessary for utilities to find and repair deteriorating aspects of their system. Often, utilities will splice old, worn out conductors, for quick restoration of power, rather than reconductor them with new wire. Multiple failures of the same powerline suggest that either it had deteriorated and was in need of replacement or a prior splice was not performed in a workmanlike manner, and itself failed. Old splices, especially the type known as ‘automatic splices’ are prone to premature failure in the field. I suggest you visit the website of a splice replacement safety product called ClampStar, for some interesting videos and information about the well-known problem of splice failure.

“As for remedial action you can take, I’d send a certified letter addressed to the upper management level employees of your utility, informing them about what happened, and requesting that they upgrade the infrastructure in your area, and reconductor the wire that has repeatedly fallen. I would include the CEO, and the chief engineer, on the correspondence list. If you document what happened, and emphasize how close the postman came to being electrocuted, I doubt they would ignore your notice of the safety hazard.

“Concerned citizens like you, are the bulwarks against public tragedy. I commend your involvement, and applaud your efforts on behalf of your family and neighbors.

“Thank you, Jeff Feldman.”

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