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Report notes factors in lineman's death

July 07, 1997


Staff Writer

An "ill-conceived" project and "management and supervisory failures" were major factors in the accident that led to the death of a Hagerstown City Light apprentice lineman on March 6, according to allegations in a report by a state investigator.

The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health report also says department employees preferred to blame equipment failure for the death of Ronald L. "Beaner" Jones Jr. instead of focusing on the fact that Jones wasn't wearing a safety belt at the time of the accident.

The report was obtained by The Herald-Mail Co. through a Maryland Public Information Act request filed with MOSH the day after the accident.


Jones, 34, was thrown from a cherry picker as he and four other City Light crew members worked to remove the last of five transformers from utility poles at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds, officials have said.

The winch being used snapped, causing the cherry picker's bucket to bounce, throwing Jones out, officials have said. Jones fell about 30 feet, striking his head on the back of the city's bucket truck.

Jones was operating the winch as a training exercise because there was no power to the poles, according to the report.

"The project was ill-conceived from the beginning. Even without energized lines, the decision to conduct training with an apprentice on a day with wind gusts of 50 mph forecast is suspect," according to the report, written by MOSH investigator Roger Campbell.

John Renner, a lineworker who was working with Jones on the day of the accident, said Campbell and MOSH investigator Mischelle Feezer were "way out of touch."

"When the big storm rolls in and it's as bad as it gets, who's out there working?" said Renner, who is chief steward of the City Light workers' union. Part of the job is working on live wires under storm conditions to restore power to customers, he said.

Renner said working in the cherry picker under windy conditions would be a good experience for Jones, a third-year apprentice.

Apprentices in their third year are qualified to work on high-voltage, energized lines, said City Light Manager Terry Weaver.

Jones was unable to lift the transformer from the pole because it was held in place by two bolts, something the crew didn't know, the report states.

Renner, on the ground, heard the rope make unusual noises and called to Jones to let up on the winch, the report states.

Apparently, Jones did not hear Renner because of noise caused by the wind and continued trying to lift the 1,460-pound transformer when part of the winch failed and Jones was thrown from the bucket, according to the report.

The transformer was not carefully inspected nor had the foreman/lead lineman ensured Jones was wearing the safety belt, the report alleges.

"These are management and supervisory failures in direct violation of the Light Department's safety manual," the report alleges.

Renner said workers cannot tell if someone in the bucket is wearing the safety belt.

But, Campbell states in the report that Jones had gone up and down in the bucket several times. No one could explain why Jones hadn't been told to wear the safety belt, he states.

In the report, Campbell describes "an attitude throughout the department that prefers to blame the cause of the fatality on equipment failure when the major factor is that the victim was not wearing a safety belt. I was asked more questions about how to handle the media than I was about abatement."

"We work as a team and safety is important and we follow procedures," Renner said Monday.

"The (equipment) failure created the accident," said Renner, referring to the broken winch. Renner said he didn't know why Jones wasn't wearing the safety belt.

Renner said the safety belt is legal, but not very effective. Workers who fall out of a bucket with the belt on could end up paralyzed or dead.

City Light workers switched from the belt to a full-body harness after the accident.

Renner accused Campbell of having "an attitude" during his investigation and said Feezer called lineworkers "kamikazes."

Campbell and Feezer could not be reached for comment.

MOSH Regional Supervisor Dale Valentine said Campbell and Feezer "did a competent job and got the facts straight."

Under comments in the report concerning the charge that Jones had failed to wear a safety belt, Campbell noted, "(General Line Foreman Mitch) Gladhill and (Distribution Superintendent Dave) Burgan indicated that they do not feel supervision or lack of was a significant factor."

"(City Administrator Bruce) Zimmerman did not seem inclined to agree with them," Campbell stated.

Burgan and Gladhill had no comment.

Zimmerman would not comment on the details of the investigation.

City officials can respond to MOSH findings during an informal conference on Thursday morning, Zimmerman said. He would not say whether city officials planned to contest the findings.

"We haven't accepted their citations. I don't know if we will or not," Zimmerman said.

Valentine said that after the conference he will make recommendations to the state commissioner of labor and industry concerning how to settle the matter.

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