WorkSafeBC report details death of transmission line worker

Improper safety, lack of proper operator certification factors in death on Northwest Transmission Line north of Terrace last year

Failure to use fall protection equipment, a lack of supervision and risk assessment are factors in the death of a contract worker on the Northwest Transmission Line north of Terrace last year, according to a WorkSafe BC Incident Investigation Report.

While the cause of death was the worker not securing a safety lanyard that would have prevented a fall, consistent supervision “should have ensured that workers tied off.”

The two companies involved in the project, Valard and McGregor Construction 2000 Ltd., also knew that the crane operator didn’t have the required certification in B.C., said the report.

Michael Todd Thornewell, 45, died of massive head trauma after falling 22m (75 ft) from a work platform, about 50 km north of Terrace on March 15, 2014, said the coroner’s report released earlier this year.

Thornewell, who had been working for McGregor under contract to Valard which built the transmission line, was a power line technician working on a new transmission tower that day, said the coroner’s report.

The WorkSafe BC report states its purpose “is to identify and communicate the findings of this incident investigation to support future preventive actions by industry and WorkSafe BC” and “Any regulatory compliance activities arising from this incident will be documented separately.”

The day of the accident, 12 workers on three crews were  at the site.

“After instructing the crews on their duties in the morning, the foreman left for a different location of the project. No official supervision was provided on site at the time of the incident,” said the report.

Workers took a break at 5:30 p.m. and afterward, they decided to finish before it got dark, said the report.

The platform that Thornewell and his co-worker were on was secured to an attachment mounted on the boom tip of a crane, said report.

Workers wear fall protection equipment including shock-absorbing lanyards, which are meant to be attached to tie-off points welded on the platform.

Thornewell worked “without attaching his fall protection lanyard to the work platform.”

The crane operator saw the co-worker’s hand signals to boom down the crane, which did not move so the co-worker repeated the hand signals, said the report. Despite the operator’s attempts to move the boom down, it didn’t move, the report said.

“Suddenly a noise that sounded like a metal object contacting another metal object came from [their] work platform. At about the same time, the boom dropped several feet without warning…The work platform also began to swing back toward the truck-mounted crane on its pivot point.

“According to witnesses, as the work platform swung again in the opposite direction, [Thornewell] fell out of the platform from the side closest to [the] crane operator…,” continued the report. One crew member saw his shock-absorbing safety lanyard on him when he was on the ground, the report said.

Thornewell had no vital signs, according to the other crew members.

“Ongoing resuscitation measures were not successful and soon after the ambulance service assumed care of [him], the paramedics pronounced his death,” continued the report.

WorkSafe BC noted that both Valard and McGregor “have comprehensive safety programs” and that Valard’s safety program was used on the project, said the report.

Both companies conducted safety meetings, periodic inspections and provided supervision, said the report.

“The form for the toolbox talk for the day of the incident was filled out, and it confirms that ‘100% tie off when climbing these towers and when descending’ was discussed,”  and Thornewell was there, said the report.

“McGregor has a drug and alcohol policy and tests employees upon hire. The firm tested its employees for drugs before work started on the NTL project,” said the report. Thornewell “was trained and certified” for the work, for working from the platform, was trained in fall protection and had a list of his safety training in their files, said the report.

‘The crane operator “was not qualified to operate cranes in B.C….Valard and McGregor knew that [this employee] was working in violation of the certificate requirements for crane operators.”  said the report.

The report noted that the crane was the oldest one there but was inspected and had no defects that would’ve caused the accident.

A toxicological exam of the deceased’s post-mortem blood sample detected cannabis, however, the forensic toxicologist’s opinion was “that because of the delay between the time of death and the time the sample was taken, a qualitative calculation to determine the level of impairment could not be made.”