Power line worker’s death caused by multiple factors

Michael Todd Thornewell, 45, died after falling 22 metres from a work platform last year

Failing to use a safety harness properly, smoking marijuana on the job and problems with a crane lift factored in the death of a worker on the Northwest Transmission Line last year, according to the recently released coroner’s report.

Michael Todd Thornewell, 45, died of massive head trauma after falling 22m from a work platform while working on the power line, about 50 km north of Terrace on March 15, 2014.

“It was determined that Mr. Thornewell had not followed appropriate safety procedures as his fall protection harness was not fastened to one of the six tie-off points that were welded to the guardrail corners,” said the coroner’s report.

“I find that Michael Todd Thornewell died near Terrace on March 15, 2014 of massive head trauma due to a fall from a crane. Recent use of cannabis may have been a contributory factor. I classify this death as accidental and make no recommendations.”

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 March 15, said the report.

During construction, new transmission lines, or conductors, are strung between transmission towers and secured permanently to the insulation hardware and the tower by “pinning in,” continued the report.

“In order to perform this work, two workers are elevated in a crane-supported work platform that is pinned to an attachment mounted to the tip of a truck-mounted crane’s telescoping boom.

“The workers instruct the crane operator to position them … for pinning in the conductor,” said the report.

The crew took a break at 5:30 p.m. and afterward, Thornewell and a co-worker were elevated 22 m to their work position, continued the report.

The crane operator, who controls the engine with a foot pedal that controls the boom’s hydraulic system, was standing next to the base of the boom just behind the cab of the truck, continued the report.

He “could not directly see Thornewell or the right side and bottom of the work platform and was following the co-worker’s hand signal to lower the boom.

“The operator tried to boom down but the platform did not move.

“He was again signalled to boom down but still nothing moved as the work platform was hung up on components of the conductor.

“When the tension created by the hang-up released, the work platform was freed, causing the crane boom and work platform to suddenly drop several metres.

“The platform then swung violently at the pinned connection point between the work platform and the attachment to the crane.”

Thornewell was thrown from the platform and fell on his back where he was found with no vital signs, continued the report.

The company’s first aid personnel started CPR and he was transported with a workplace emergency vehicle, said the report.

“BC Ambulance Services personnel met the emergency vehicle at the Cedar River Bridge at approximately [6:28 p.m.] and continued with resuscitation efforts without success,” continued the report.

Thornewell had extensive training in fall protection and his lineman certification, which he had received in Alberta in 2010, said the report.

The work platform had a hand friction brake that would reduce the swinging of the platform, continued the report.

“An inspection of the unit determined that there were no defects that would have caused the incident and that the hand brake had not been applied at the time of the incident,” read the coroner’s report.

Additionally, the report said “Thornewell was witnessed to have smoked cannabis during the break at [5:30 p.m.], just prior to returning to work.”

Cannabis was found in his system “which indicated recent use,” according to a toxicology report which also said the results “indicated use of cocaine.”