Contractor briefly hospitalized in campus electrical accident

By Joshua Hernandez, Dec. 7, 2021

An electrical worker was injured in an electrical accident in Building 13, the Art Department and Engineering Annex, on Nov. 12 between 10:20 and 10:30 a.m., while preparing the building for the campus’ ongoing infrastructure upgrades.

The Ryan Company was contracted by the California State University to complete the multi-year Electrical Infrastructure Upgrade project, which will replace Cal Poly Pomona’s 60-year-old electrical distribution system.

According to Senior Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning & Management Aaron Klemm, the injured worker was sent to the emergency room, but he was also discharged the same day, and returned to work on Nov. 15 with only minor injuries.

“The contractor for the EIU project was doing some investigation in Building 13, the Art and Engineering Annex, in preparation for the work they had going in there in early 2022,” Klemm said. “During the course of that investigation, they had an arc flash.”

According to the Workplace Safety Awareness Council, “an arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground.”

Possible causes of an arc flash include excess dust, dropping tools, accidental touching, condensation, material failure, corrosion or faulty installation.

“We have looked at it and have not determined a specific cause other than one phase of electricity got connected to another phase of electricity and caused an arc flash,” Klemm said. “That’s the extent of what we know.”

Klemm also added that “university personnel arrived on the scene, immediately went to work following safety protocols to ensure the life and safety of the electrical worker who was affected.”

The arc flash not only set off the smoke and fire alarms, prompting a quick response from the University Police Department, but also caused a power outage which affected the red-brick dorms and the facilities buildings. However, according to visual communication design student Rebekah Freeman, not everything on the first floor of Building 13 was out of commission for long.

“They did actually get the power back into the ceramics room, and we were allowed to use it yesterday, we just had to go in through the back door,” Freeman said in an interview on Nov. 17. “We couldn’t use the bathrooms and the hallways were off-limits.”

Klemm said that was possible due to manual modifications made on Nov. 12 to restore half of the building’s power.

On Nov. 18 at 5:45 a.m., the modifications were reversed, and the power was restored to the entire floor, with all classrooms once again able to accommodate students.

To prevent another accident like this one, electrical work on campus will be more closely monitored to account for potential safety hazards moving forward.

“We immediately had a safety meeting with the contractor, we reviewed the incident, the Chancellor’s Office folks came and reviewed the incident, and are making a few minor corrections in the way we document how the contractor plans their work, and implements their work, so that we have as few of these unfortunate incidents as possible,” Klemm said.

The Chancellor’s Office could not be reached for an interview.

Before this accident, Klemm said construction workers would communicate safety matters via a tailgate meeting, wherein workers would meet around the tailgate of one of their trucks to discuss what they worked on that day.

From now on, workers will be documenting their progress on paper so that information is more easily available to the entire crew, and so they can keep records of their work plans.

The Electrical Infrastructure Upgrade project is tentatively scheduled to finish in early 2022, and construction updates can be found on the university’s website.

“We have a communications and safety program that we follow, and we followed up on this incident, and our goal is zero incidents or disruptions to the campus,” Klemm said.

Feature image by Nicolas Hernandez

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