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OSHA: MN Power Electrocution Still A Mystery

DULUTH, MN – What caused the electrocution death of a Minnesota Power employee at a Schroeder worksite in September remains a mystery, even after a state investigation wrapped up last week.

The nearly five-month probe by the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration found no hazards at the site that could have caused the death of Kyle Damberg, a longtime company employee whose body was found in a building under construction.

No citations will be issued in the incident for unsafe practices, the final report says.

“We believe OSHA did a thorough investigation,” said Amy Rutledge, a Minnesota Power spokeswoman. “We certainly agree with their findings. It did confirm that our work site was safe, that Minnesota Power’s safety practices meet or exceed OSHA’s safety standards.”

The state investigation focused on identifying hazards that may have contributed to Damberg’s death, said James Honerman, an OSHA spokesman.

“The cause of death is not something that we determine,” he said. “We look for particulars. We found none in this case.”

But Dr. Donald Kundel, the Duluth medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, said Tuesday that Damberg had a large electrical burn on his left side that couldn’t have been caused by anything else.

“In my opinion, he was electrocuted by a high-voltage power source,” Kundel said. “There was no other explanation for his death.”

The body of Damberg, 47, of Duluth was found on the afternoon of Sept. 3 in a maintenance building under construction near the company’s Taconite Harbor Energy Center. As a designer in the company’s engineering department, Damberg regularly checked on the work done by the project’s contractors and subcontractors. With a laptop and a camera, he was there that day after workers left to photograph the progress.

Damberg’s body was found by a man who stopped by to pick up a rented articulating boom lift and an arc welder that had been used by a subcontractor, the OSHA report said.

“Initially, we thought (the death) may have been natural causes, such as a heart attack,” Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk said. “Nothing looked out of the ordinary.”

It wasn’t until the autopsy that signs of electrical trauma were discovered. But nothing at the scene indicated where the electrical discharge came from, Falk said.

According to the OSHA report:

It had rained off and on that day, so conditions were wet in the roofless building. A temporary 120 volt electrical panel had been installed on the northwest corner of the building. Damberg’s body was found on the northeast side, on a pallet 15 feet from the boom lift with its arm positioned close to the floor and the arc welder in the lift’s basket. The welder was plugged into the lift’s power source. But both the lift and welder were turned off.

Kundel’s theory is that the boom lift was moved after Damberg was electrocuted.

“I told them to investigate whether that machine could have touched a high wire and (Damberg) leaned up against that machine,” Kundel said. “The question is whether the machine could have been moved after Damberg was electrocuted to prevent someone from being recognized as negligent.”

That questions still surround Damberg’s death is unfortunate, Rutledge said, noting that it continues to be an emotional time for the company and for Damberg’s co-workers.

“Based on the investigation, it’s unclear whether anything (more) will be found,” she said. “That can be difficult for the family and for our co-workers here.”

Damberg’s widow, Karen, declined comment on the OSHA findings, referring questions to her attorney, who couldn’t be reached. Damberg also was survived by two sons.

Story via Duluth News Tribune

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  1. January 6, 2011 at 2:20 am

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