Tuesday, July 23, 2019

PUC Seeks $4.533 Million Penalty Against Med-Ed For Fatal Electrocution In Northampton County

On July 23, the Public Utility Commission announced its Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement has filed a formal complaint seeking $4.533 million in civil penalties from Metropolitan Edison Company, along with numerous changes in utility procedures and standards, following a lengthy investigation into an incident that claimed the life of a Northampton County man.
This is the largest civil penalty ever sought by the Electric Safety Section.
According to the I&E complaint, a high-voltage conductor owned and operated by Met-Ed fell into the backyard of a residence along Royal Manor Road in Easton on July 26, 2016. 
One of the residents of that home – Thomas Poynton – stepped outside after hearing a loud explosion and was electrocuted when he encountered energized ground outside his home. The Poynton home was also damaged by a resulting fire.
Based on the investigation by electric safety engineers from I&E, the complaint alleges that Met-Ed and its contractors used a series of “bronze hotline clamps” attached to the 34,500 volt transmission lines near the incident site – including the conductor that fell to the ground – which were intended for copper conductors, rather than the aluminum lines they were attached to. 
This was contrary to the manufacturer’s recommendations and contrary to the materials specifications for FirstEnergy (Met-Ed’s parent company). Also, the company allegedly did not have procedures for the installation of hotline clamps.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that Met-Ed’s ground fault protection system failed on the day of the incident, allowing the continued flow of electricity to the conductor after it fell to the ground.
Among the specific violations alleged in the I&E complaint are:
-- The use of clamps on aluminum conductor lines which were designed for use on copper lines and which the manufacturer specifically noted are “not recommended” for use on aluminum conductors.
-- The use of clamps on aluminum conductor lines which the company material specifications direct be used on copper conductors.
-- Failure to maintain records for the installation clamps on the lines involved in this incident.
-- The inability to identify when or where similar clamps may have been installed throughout the Met-Ed system.
-- Failure of Met-Ed to identify incorrectly installed equipment during regular pole and conductor inspections prior to the fatal incident.
-- Failure to properly train, equip, monitor and supervise employees and contractors in the proper installation inspection and maintenance of clamps.
-- Failure of Met-Ed’s ground fault protection system.
-- Failure by Met-Ed to maintain its transmission system in conformance with NESC, which requires that during inspection and maintenance all defective equipment should be “put in good order or permanently disconnected” and failure to require all employees working in the vicinity of energized equipment or lines to “perform only those tasks for which they are trained, equipped, authorized and so directed.”
-- Failure to provide safe and reliable service.
As a result of the alleged failures detailed by the electric safety investigation, I&E is asking the Commission to impose a total civil penalty of $4,533,000, along with the ordering of numerous corrective actions focused on training, supervision, records retention and procedures for responding to 9-1-1 requests to de-energize equipment or facilities. 
Additionally, the complaint calls for the immediate creation of a Met-Ed program, to be approved by the Commission, for “the inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement of any and all conductors containing clamps and/or other connections that have been installed contrary to manufacturer’s instructions and defective ground fault equipment” – to be completed within one year from a final Commission order in this case.
Per PUC regulations, the company has 20 days from the date of service to file an answer to the formal complaint.
Electric Safety
Created in 2014, the Electric Safety Section of the Safety Division works to increase the safety of individuals working around power lines, including utility employees, contractors, construction workers and homeowners.  
Annually, an average of 24 serious injuries and six deaths occur in Pennsylvania involving individuals working around utility company power lines. 
Additional general electric safety information and tips are listed on the PUC’s Electric Safety webpage.

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