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OSHA: MN Power Electrocution Still A Mystery

January 5, 2011 1 comment

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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Autopsy Reveals Minnesota Power Employee Electrocuted in Accident

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

COOK COUNTY, MINNESOTA – A longtime Minnesota Power employee found dead at a North Shore work site in September was fatally electrocuted, a death certificate filed in Cook County reveals.

Although the death of Kyle Damberg, 47, was deemed an accident, investigation into the workplace circumstances leading to the death are still under way by the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“It’s still an open investigation; there’s nothing public yet,” said James Honerman, an OSHA spokesman. “We’re looking at the hazards that may have contributed to the death. We have to make sure we’re looking at every aspect of the case before we make any recommendations.”

Damberg’s body was found in a maintenance building under construction near the company’s Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder on the afternoon of Sept. 3. Damberg, a designer in the engineering services department, was there alone to do a status check on the project. He had worked for Minnesota Power for 23 years.

A visitor to the site to pick up some machinery found Damberg lying on the floor of the building, unconscious and not breathing. He had been dead a couple of hours, Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk said. Initial sheriff’s office reports called it a “sudden death.”

No one witnessed what happened to Damberg, complicating the probe. Dr. Sandra Stover of Grand Marais performed the autopsy and determined the cause of death.

After learning the official cause of death on Monday, Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge declined comment.

“We really can’t comment until we have all the facts,” she said.

From the beginning, Minnesota Power acknowledged the death was a “tragic work site accident.” Besides working with OSHA, the company also hired a third-party investigator to find out what happened.

“We certainly want answers,” Rutledge said.

If OSHA’s investigation determines that hazards existed that contributed to Damberg’s death, penalties could be imposed on Minnesota Power.

Minnesota Power, however, has had a good track record with OSHA, often exceeding basic standards to prevent job-related illnesses and accidents at its work sites, Honerman noted in September.

Story via TwinCities.com