Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 4, 2014

MIOSHA proposes fine for tree trimmer's death

By MICHELLE MERLIN
mmerlin@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a $12,600 fine on the company that employed a tree trimmer who died while working in Traverse City.

Zachery Eldon Adams, 23, of Sears, died in August when he was fatally shocked after a brush with a 13,800-volt line while he was subcontracted to trim a pine tree for Traverse City Light and Power. Adams was employed by Trees Inc., a vegetation management company based in Houston, Texas.

A four-month MIOSHA investigation found the company committed two serious violations, said Adrian Rocskay, MIOSHA’s director of the general industry safety and health division.

“These serious violations classified as high-severity, which means death or injuries involving permanent disability did occur,” Rocskay said. “They were classified with greater probability, which means that the likelihood that an injury can occur was really high.”

The probe found Trees Inc. did not follow an OSHA rule that requires all employees be briefed before a job. The company also failed to ensure that its employees do not get too close to an energized line.

“It’s the employer’s obligation,” Rocskay said.

A coworker on the ground passed Adams a piece of equipment in a backyard off of East Orchard Drive when he backed into the line, received a shock, and went into cardiac arrest.

“Employees need to always stay vigilant about how close they are to the power line. It’s easy to become complacent because they’ve never had an accident before or to get too wrapped up in the work,” Rocskay said. “Also, when you’re trimming tree branches, sometimes the branches can move unexpectedly and bring an employee closer to the power lines.”

Trees Inc. could not be reached for comment, but has two weeks to appeal the citation. The company provides utility services to 21 states, according to its website.

A separate TCL&P investigation caused the utility to terminate its contract with Trees Inc.

“They never provided us with any evidence that Zach Adams was fully trained to do what he was doing,” Tim Arends, the executive director for TCL&P, said.

The utility’s 60-day investigation also revealed that Trees Inc. employees were using tree spikes on their boots to latch onto trees, a direct violation of their contract, which forbids spikes’ use on trees that aren’t being taken down entirely, Arends said.

Trees Inc. also failed to immediately inform TCL&P of the accident when it happened, Arends said.