Shelby Energy fined in death

-A A +A
By Nathan L. McBroom

The Shelby Energy Cooperative has been ordered to pay $15,000 in fines for safety violations - several of which are said to have contributed to the death of an electrical worker last year.

On Monday, the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) announced that it has accepted a settlement with Shelby Energy over six safety violations.

The violations, which range from failure of personnel to wear proper safety gear to inadequate vertical clearance of electrical wires, carry a maximum fine of $2,500 each.

Shelby Energy, an electricity and gas provider in Shelby and surrounding counties, is based in Shelbyville and has been in operation since 1937.

The company contracts some of its work out to outside companies. One of Shelby Energy's former contractors, Dobson Power Line Construction Company, is responsible for causing all six of the company's latest safety violations.

Under the PSC's statutes, electric companies are responsible for the violations committed by their contractors.

Shelby Energy no longer contracts work with Dobson Power.

Debbie Martin, president and CEO of Shelby Energy, said the company has already paid the fine for the violations.

Martin, who has been in her position since January 2007, said the company performed monthly audits on Dobson Power, and there were "no warning signs" that Dobson was operating in an unsafe manner.

The violations were discovered after an employee of Dobson Power, Cosby Carroll, fell to his death from an aerial bucket truck on Nov. 12, 2007. Carroll, who was installing new distribution lines for Shelby Energy in Bagdad, was not wearing the required safety harness.

He was 34.

Martin said Carroll's death was a "tragedy."

She said no lawsuit has been filled against Shelby Energy because of the death.

Upon investing the accident, the PSC discovered the safety violations that contributed to the accident, along with two other non-related violations.

But that wasn't the first time that Shelby Energy has been fined for safety violations - nor was it the first time they've proven fatal.

Andrew Melnykovych, director of communications for PSC, said in 2006 the commission fined Shelby Energy $5,000 for two safety violations that were discovered after a worker was electrocuted.

A statement from the PSC said three contractor employees and one Shelby Energy employee have been killed since 1998 while working on power-line projects.

Melnykovych said the pattern of violations at the company has led the PSC to order a comprehensive management audit of Shelby Energy.

He said this audit will examine all of the operations of the company and will give special regard to their safety practices.

He said the audit was necessary because of the "relatively high number" of fatalities at the company.

"There was a troubling pattern with this particular company, and we felt that we had to take steps to address the problem," he said.

Melnykovych hopes the independent audit will be completed by the first part of next year. Shelby Energy is paying for the audit.

If the audit is negative, then the commission could draft a corrective action plan that the company would have to follow.

Melnykovych said though Shelby Energy's safety practices need to be examined, the company already has taken a number of corrective actions.

Martin said if the commission requires the company to make additional changes they would be "more than willing to comply."

Martin said the company is committed to enhancing the safety of their employees and contractors.

"Our number one priority is safety," she said.