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What We Leave Behind: A Cautionary Tale

This is Aaron’s story, told by his mother, Jenny.

Aaron’s father, Dave, loved his job. He was always tinkering with things and could never just sit still. Dave was wonderful, thoughtful, funny and caring – the most beautiful man I’ve ever known.

When Aaron was born, you could see the love, devotion and pride in Dave’s eyes. As Aaron grew up, Dave wanted to be there when he woke up in the morning, play with him throughout the day and put him to bed at night. He cut back on overtime and jobs away from home so he could spend more time with Aaron.

The thing that stands out most in my mind about how Dave and Aaron got along was when Aaron was 6 years old and wanted to play soccer. Dave told me it was so funny watching the boy play. Aaron was beautifully natured; gentle, thoughtful, polite and timid. Playing a contact sport was something we thought he would never want to do. Dave said when Aaron was playing soccer, he was the closest spectator to the game. When he was the goalkeeper and the ball came toward him, Aaron could not get out of the way quickly enough, and when in the field, the last thing he ever wanted to do was attack anyone who had the ball.

But Aaron wanted to continue playing, so Dave, who knew absolutely nothing about soccer, thought that he had better find a way to help Aaron play. Over time, and with his father’s help, Aaron got better and better at the game. In fact, he ended up winning the award that year for most improved player.

‘A Freak Accident’
One Friday afternoon, Dave couldn’t wait to pick up Aaron from school. He called me from the office to say he and some co-workers were heading out to do some work on a new overhead line, which typically meant that he would be working late, but Dave said he would make sure he got it done in time so he could pick up Aaron.

Dave would normally call me to let me know he was on his way to the school, but I didn’t receive a phone call that day. I called Dave when I thought it was getting a bit late; it went to voicemail.

I learned later that day that Dave had been involved in a freak accident – no one really knew yet exactly what had happened. It had something to do with a brand-new overhead cable running from the city to a place about 200 kilometers away where a mine site was being built.

The crew had not connected the cable to anything. There was no other cable anywhere near the cable Dave was working on, so there was no power on it. But when Dave touched the cable, he suffered a massive electric shock and died at the scene.

I later found out that when putting up the new cable, they were supposed to connect another cable to it and let it hang down to the ground, or something like that, but this was not done. That was nearly seven years ago. Since then, I’m still so angry at Dave a lot of the time, even though I know I shouldn’t be. I can just see in my mind’s eye how it happened: Dave wanting to get the job done as quickly as possible so he could pick up Aaron. How long does it take, though, to connect a cable that could save your life? Even if it took hours, it would be worth the time spent.

Dave left me with a home loan, a car loan, and the need to work six days a week to make ends meet. But most devastating of all, Dave left behind a son who desperately misses his father.

After that fateful day, Aaron never played soccer again. He was a devastated, heartbroken little boy who has now become a heartbroken, destructive and confused young man. This is the greatest challenge Dave left me. If only he had concentrated more on his job and making sure he followed the safe, correct procedures, he would likely still be here, helping to guide Aaron.

What Really Happened?
So, what exactly happened to Dave?

Most readers of Incident Prevention understand the many modes of inadvertent energizing from static and capacitive coupling to a closed switch. We don’t know the exact cause of the electrical potential in this incident.

As most of us also know, the larger the conductors, the longer the circuit, the greater the electrical potential can be. The cable that Dave contacted was over 200 kilometers long and may have had a potential of up to 40,000 volts.

But here’s what everyone may not know: You should never make contact with overhead cables that are not already tested and EPZ earthed (grounded).

To prevent any buildup of an electrical charge from any source of inadvertent energizing, portable earth devices (grounds) must be connected to overhead cables under construction or to any overhead cables that are not connected to any source of power supply. These portable earth devices are to be connected during the construction or decommissioning of both low-voltage and high-voltage cables. With these master grounds installed, we then install personal working earths (EPZ grounds) before anyone approaches the cable.

In terms of Aaron’s story above, if this simple procedure had been followed by the construction company and enforced by Dave before he approached the cable, it’s likely he would have survived his shift and headed off to pick up Aaron from school that Friday afternoon.

About the Author: Dale West is an industrial electrician and international high-voltage coach, trainer and speaker living in Australia.

Dale West

Dale West is an industrial electrician and international high-voltage coach, trainer and speaker living in Australia.