OSHA Expert Witness Comments on Workplace Accident


HVAC repairmanThis case involves an injury to an installer who was working in a commercial building. The plaintiff worked on all of the duct work for an HVAC unit. He had been told by the supervising electrician of the commercial building (who was employed by the building’s management company) that the electricity had been turned off for the area he was working in. As he prepared to enter a duct to examine areas that needed repairs, he brushed up against a conduit. Subsequently, electricity entered his leg, ran across his back, and exited out of his arms. The plaintiff fell from his twelve-foot ladder and sustained a broken leg, a fractured spine, and a concussion.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. How safe is it to work near conduits, and what steps should be taken by supervisors to ensure that any area with conduits is made safe for workers like the plaintiff?

Expert Witness Response

Typically, workers can safely work near conduit as it should not be energized. Generally, if the commercial building is large enough, the repairman will be employed by the management company. Therefore, the management company (and affiliated parties, like the supervising electrician) are responsible for ensuring that adequate safety measures are taken. If the repairman was hired, then the general contractor would have the ultimate responsibility to assure the site was safe for all workers. Some of this responsibility could be delegated to other, managing contractor workers including union workers. The matter comes down to who created the hazard, who had the ability to control the hazard, who had the ability to correct the hazard, and who had employees exposed to a “known” hazard. In cases like this, communication is key. The supervisors need to clearly understand where the plaintiff should be working in order to guarantee that electricity is not on in the given area. Also, given the height that the plaintiff was working at, the plaintiff should have had some safety measures when examining and entering the duct.

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