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Two lawncare workers injured in Palm Beach by power lines

Posted at 10:20 AM, Aug 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-15 21:08:51-04

A close call on Palm Beach after two lawn care workers were shocked by power lines.

"The biggest takeaway we have from this, it's a preventable tragedy," said division chief Sean Baker with Palm Beach Fire Rescue.

Around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Baker said a lawn maintenance worker was atop a ladder trimming hedges at a home on the 600 block of S. County road when he accidentally touched a nearby power line.

"He was cutting something with the tool and as he lifted the tool up, he came in contact with the line," said Baker. "When he came into contact with that power line, he fell down off the ladder."

Witnesses and paramedics had to perform CPR on the man, both on the scene and while he was being transported to St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach. His condition is unknown at this time.

"His partner who was holding the ladder also fell down as well. I believe he received a minor shock," said Baker.

That man was transported to Good Samaritan hospital to be treated.

Authorities could not confirm with WPTV the company that the workers were affiliated with but a truck parked at the scene on the property had a logo for Focal Pointe, a local landscaping company. WPTV tried to call the company to confirm the conditions of the workers but did not get a response.

Baker said fire rescue tries to warn the public about the hazards of power lines.

"Simply look up if you are in question, just keep your eyes above your head as you're working just to make sure you don't come into contact with lines," he said. "If there are power lines, whether they're above ground or below ground, give them a wide berth and just stay away."

Joe Coursol, a supervisor with Panel Electric in Palm Beach with over 30 years of electrician experience, said workers can still get shocked by getting too close to the lines without even touching it.

"It's what you would call an arc," he said. "If you have a power line and you've got metal that's too close to it, the arc will jump to it and sometimes grab that and pull you. Electricity is known more for grabbing you instead of pushing you away."

Coursol said the voltage of the lines associated with the incident is enough to melt skin.

He added that he's so concerned about safety that he's even stopped along the road in Palm Beach to warn lawn workers who are getting too close to power lines.

"The tall hedges do bring out the beauty of the island, unfortunately it does create somewhat of a hazard for landscapers," he said. "It's a very big safety problem. Electricity is very dangerous. You cannot do enough things to be safe enough. If you're doing anything within three feet of their power lines, then you need to stop what you're doing and call Florida Power and Light. They'll come out and do whatever needs to be done."

Coursol said aluminum ladders, like the one used by the workers Tuesday morning, are too dangerous to use around power lines.

"As electricians, we are not allowed to use aluminum ladders and we wouldn't want to because aluminum is a very strong conductor," he said. "We use fiberglass ladders, we use wooden ladders."

But Kurt Carlson of Armstrong Landscape & Design said it's hard to find fiberglass or wooden ladders tall enough for the landscaping work they need to do.

"They tend to get really heavy and awkward and trying to move in and around," he said. "So we do use aluminum ladders, but if we are within contact distance of a power line, we don't let our guys touch it at all and get anywhere near it."

Carlson said working with hedges are tricky -- it's a problem they face frequently on the island and anywhere else hedges are popular.

"Trimming the hedges here is a challenge. Some of these hedges will go 26 to 30 feet tall right into the bottom of the power lines. And the poles have been there for years and years that the lines have sagged, so you have them down in trees," he said. "You've always got a power line that's on every property that's coming through so you've got to be cognizant of where those lines are."

We asked him to look at the hedges in question on S. County Road. He immediately noticed thin, almost transparent power lines stemming from the main pole and connecting to the home just feet above the hedges.

"It could have been a lapse in judgment or something else. The line appears to be four to five feet above the hedge. He does have to get within 10 feet of that line, there's no way around it," he said. "Accidents happen, that's why we don't even like the guys working in range of them."

Workers are trained to maintain at least 10 foot distance from power lines.

"That's 10 feet from the end of your [trimming] pole at full extension," he said. "Often times we'll call FPL and have them bring a specialist trimmer in to take care of this problem just to keep our men out of harms way so to speak."

Carlson said his company -- one of two certified arborists on the island -- may conduct additional training this week in light of Tuesday's incident. One of Armstrong Landscaping's supervisors even witnessed Tuesday's incident himself and saw paramedics performing CPR on the victim.

"We really started pushing for safety three years ago when one of our guys had a near-incident. We've bought all non-conductive pole pruners, we have extensive training, a monthly safety meeting," he said. "You've just got to remind your guys all the time to be safe. They try to do a good job, they work fast and sometimes don't pay attention to what's going on so we've got to constantly keep them on their toes about that."

Palm Beach Fire Rescue and Palm Beach Police are continuing to investigate the incident.

Florida Power and Light said the incident did not cause any loss of power to the system. FPL workers were on site assisting first responders and checking the affected power lines.