Electrical Safety: Ladders, Dew, and Power Lines

October 05, 2017
Read time: 3 mins


This 3-min. video using photos and animation recreates the real-life series of events that led to the electrocution death of a 23-year-old construction worker from an overhead power line -- and how the death could have been prevented.

This true story is taken from a NIOSH FACE Report, which identifies factors that contribute to fatal injuries and gives comprehensive recommendations for preventing similar deaths.



You might be a lucky one, you get training and your job site is inspected for safety hazards before work begins. Some workers aren't that lucky. The job that day was nothing unusual, replacing shingles on a gently sloping roof 23 feet from the ground. But the job came with challenges, the building was 16 feet from a utility pole carrying electrical, cable, and telephone wiring.

The main electrical line to the building was 8,000 volts. The small contractor on the job did not have a written safety program and did not provide safety training to the workers hired for the job. But, he did get a ladder hoist to lift shingles to the roof. The 32-foot ladder with the hoist had a sticker, "Warning! Watch for wires, aluminum conducts electricity."

The contractor hired a 23-year-old immigrant from Eastern Europe and two others. All three had worked as roofers and all spoke English. At 8:15 on a summer morning, the grass was still wet with dew when the contractor dropped off the materials, then left. And the workers began setting up the hoist. One worker began to walk the ladder up while the others footed it.

Just as the ladder was nearly vertical, the two coworkers slipped on the damp grass, the tall ladder fell sideways and hit the overhead power line. The victim was electrocuted immediately. The others were severely shocked, which rendered them unconscious. The force of the current threw them to the ground. Once the two regained consciousness, they saw what had happened and one called for help, but it was too late. The ambulance delivered the victim to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Electrical current is unforgiving. More than 80% of construction workers killed by electricity are not electricians.


This death could have been prevented.

  • First, the employer should have eliminated the use of aluminum ladders or other conductive equipment near overhead power lines. Fiberglass ladders are best, but they must be kept clean to work safely; grease and grime conduct electricity.
  • Second, the company should've had a competent person inspect the site for hazards before work begins, then implement control measures. On this site, the company could've called the electric company to shield the lines or turn off the power.
  • Third, the company should've developed and enforced a comprehensive safety program, including hazard recognition and avoiding unsafe conditions like overhead power lines.

This tragedy doesn't have to happen to you or your coworkers. Use what you've learned in this video, then you can go home safe.

More Info:

Get an accompanying Toolbox Talk, poster and a one-page handout to make for a complete training experience. Great for foremen, site supervisors, and professional trainershttp://cpwr.com/sites/default/files/p...

One-page handout: http://cpwr.com/sites/default/files/p...

NIOSH FACE Report: http://cdc.gov/niosh/face/pdfs/10MA01...

Watch more Lessons to Go Home Safe: http://bit.ly/2uYQpig

—CPWR is a nonprofit research and training institution serving the U.S. construction industry and its workers, contractors, trainers, and safety and health professionals. Find out more at www.cpwr.com