Life-Saving Reminder

Wearing a new high-voltage line alarm helped arborist John Miceli avoid possible electrocution.

Ten years ago, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that between 1980 and 1988, 181 workers involved in tree-trimming operations died, and that 68 of these deaths resulted from electrocution. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 161 fatalities resulted from contact with electric current from 1992 to 1999, including 90 deaths specifically resulting from contact with overhead power lines.

Many arborists and landscapers work on electric utility, telephone, and cable-related projects near non-insulated, high-voltage power lines. The potential for severe electrical contact injuries is always there, experienced arborists say.

"When you see high tension power lines, you need to fear them," said John Miceli, president of Sebring Tree in Sarasota, Fla. He shared some of his power line close encounters, the most recent of which occurred while he wore a high-voltage live line alarm.

"I've been in the landscape and tree service industry for 16 years," Miceli said. "I was in business in Mahopac, New York for 14 years, then moved to Sarasota. Any kind of trimming or removal in residential or commercial projects requires a lot of work around electrical wires. You've got to be very careful, especially doing storm work.

"I used to work the New York ice storms. You work relentless hours, sometimes 18 or 20 hours straight, non-stop. You get pretty tired after a few days. I had my first close call three years ago when I got zapped while working a pine tree on a windy day. I was up in a bucket when a swinging branch hit me and I felt the current through the branch. I was lucky--I know it could have been a lot worse. My uncle died that way."

Training to Avoid Exposures
Not only arborists are affected. Every year, exposure to electric current, wiring, transformers, or other electrical components seriously injures, sometimes fatally, scores of workers involved with a variety of industries, including utilities, construction, communications, fire prevention, and outdoor advertising companies.

Scores of workers each year in the utility, construction, communications, fire prevention, and outdoor advertising industries are seriously or fatally injured.

OSHA, NIOSH, the National Arborist Association (NAA), and other organizations provide classes and seminars, as well as grants for related safety and health training. Miceli found that safety training, preventive measures, and the newly available live line alarm helped him to avoid a potentially fatal high voltage electrical contact.

Used as an auxiliary means of high-voltage live line detection, the alarm is a little larger than a wristwatch and has a flexible and adjustable elastic armband for wearing on the upper arm. It has a clear, audible warning tone, is sealed against dust and water, and is always on. It has an integrated test button and readily available batteries with a service life of approximately two years.

"When I bought the truck and saw (the alarm), I thought it was like a toy," Miceli admitted. "At first I threw it in the glovebox, but eventually I put it on and forgot about it. Then one day, I was trimming palm trees near a house and it beeped, I looked up and there was a high-tension line.

"Sometimes when you're working, you get involved with a project and don't always think about the power lines, but this reminded me; kind of tapped me on the shoulder. I was too near a high voltage power line and didn't know it. This alarm works!

"I also hear and read stories about other arborists all the time," he said. "I'm a dedicated reader of Arbor Age and the NAA newsletters. I recently read about a couple of guys who died from electrocution about a month ago. I've had my close calls in the past. When you see wires or lines, you really need to think about what you're doing."

Miceli found that preventive measures and safety-related equipment could help to reduce the potential risk of a tragic high-voltage power line contact. Many workers in affected industries need to learn the same lessons.


This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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