Exposed live wires in frayed cord and a puddle equal tragedy.

They found him lying in the backyard in a pool of water. After wrapping an extension cord around his waist and pulling it around the side of a house under construction, the carpenter apparently had plugged the cord into a portable power distribution box. This scene left investigators searching for answers. Despite the physical evidence, the puzzle remained: What was the carpenter doing in back of the house, and what had caused his death in such a typical setting as a simple tract housing construction project? This was the scenario described by a workman's compensation insurance representative who called us to investigate the death. The adjuster asked simple but key questions: "What happened?" and "How did such an experienced workman get into so much trouble?"

The accident played out. The death occurred on the lawn of one of the houses under construction. It had rained the night before. After reading the night guard's log sheets, we learned the victim arrived on the job early in the morning. The guard saw him step out of his pickup, gather his tools, and enter a house down the street.

The power distribution box for interim electric service was connected to a temporary fused disconnect switch mounted on a 4 x 4 in. wood pole. A 15-ft cord extended from the disconnect switch to the portable powerbox. Anyone at the job site had access to this box: By connecting an extension cord to it, workers could run their own power tools. This was a typical box having standard 110V receptacles and 220V twist lock receptacles.

The carpenter apparently went into the kitchen with his own power tools, where he was mounting and fitting the kitchen cabinets. Since the house did not have permanent electric power, he had to get it from the temporary power pole located some distance from the house.

After reconstructing events leading up to the accident, we arrived at the following conclusions. Evidently, the carpenter didn't have his own extension cord, so he picked up someone else's. Next, he plugged the cord into the powerbox, wrapped it around his waist, and began pulling it around the house. All was well, until he stepped into a puddle of water. He must have come in contact with the live conductors of the cord, which were exposed due to frayed insulation. Unfortunately, he either failed to see or ignored the frayed insulationand exposed conductors.

Accident overview. It's amazing anyone would use such a damaged cord without repairing it. Some workers may not have realized the danger; while others might have recognized the hazard but worked around it. Unfortunately, our man didn't realize he'd picked up an unsafe cord until it was too late.

Since a good connection to the ground existed (the puddle of water), and he'd wrapped the cord around his body, the carpenter couldn't free himself. We believe his muscles were paralyzed. No one else was around to help him get loose, call an ambulance, or disconnect the power. Therefore, he received the full short-circuit capacity available: enough to kill him.]

Among others, two safety violations caught up with the carpenter. First, the superintendent was clearly lax in ensuring a safe working environment. Second, the disconnect switch fuses had been replaced with short pieces of copper pipe, so there was no overload and short-circuit protection. In the end, a jury awarded a substantial settlement to the carpenter's family.