An explosion last July in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, that killed a firefighter was caused by two utility contractors when they failed to establish the location of underground utilities prior to beginning excavation work, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in a news release.
Verizon Wireless had contracted with Bear Communications LLC of Lawrence, Kansas, for a fiber optics project in Sun Prairie. Bear had subcontracted with VC Tech Inc., of Ypsilanti, Michigan. VT Tech’s employees were working in the vicinity of the explosion but had evacuated before the explosion, according to a Bear spokesperson.
Sun Prairie Fire Department Captain Cory Barr, who responded to the fire that erupted following the blast, was killed. Five buildings in the area were also damaged.
OSHA investigated the accident and determined that an underground gas line had been struck by excavating equipment, which caused the explosion. OSHA also determined that neither contractor had contacted the underground utility owners or the local one-call system, a system comprised of member organizations that operate underground facilities in a specific geographic area. Both companies were issued a serious safety violation, and face penalties of $12,934 each – the maximum for the violation for which they were cited.
“Excavators are required to train their employees on procedures for determining the location of underground utilities, and contact the utility company before opening an excavation,” said Madison Office Area Director Chad Greenwood.