Fatality Investigation: Teenager Electrocuted on Ladder

Source: Bjoern Wylezich - 123RF

The Kentucky State FACE program recently investigated the death of a 16-year old boy attempted to maneuver a fully-extended 25-foot ladder when
he lost control, causing the ladder to fall backward and contact an electric power line, electrocuting him.

The worker had gathered the aluminum extension ladder to work in the front of a house; three other workers moved on to the side of the house. At the front of the house, there were two 4 feet x 4 feet boxwood bushes planted 3 feet from the home’s exterior wall at the point where the victim was attempting to access the roof.

It is believed that because of the bushes, the victim was having trouble accessing the roof. With the ladder still fully extended, the victim attempted to move it closer by lifting the ladder and walking between the bushes to find a suitable base.

The ladder became unstable, causing the victim to lose his balance falling backward. As the victim and ladder were falling, the ladder fell into a top-phase power line carrying 7.2 kilovolts (7,200 volts).

Because the victim was still in contact with the highly conductive aluminum ladder when it struck the power line, electricity was able to travel through the metal and into the young worker.

When EMS arrived eight minutes later, they observed the victim lying on the ground, facing upwards. Both of the worker’s boots had burn holes near the fifth toe and burn marks were also present on the stomach area. He was pronounced dead by the county coroner minutes later.

The owner of the subcontracting company acknowledged that he had instructed the victim to move to the front of the house to continue work there. Both coworkers were aware that the victim was putting up a ladder to access the front roof and that the victim had not asked for assistance.

NIOSH investigators identified the following unrecognized hazards as key contributing factors in this incident:

  • Work performed outside youth employment regulations;
  • Lack of hazard recognition and safety training;
  • Use of a conductive ladder around high voltage lines; and
  • Transporting an extension ladder in the vertical position.

Full recommendations by NIOSH are contained in the report.