SaskPower supervisor found guilty of breaking safety rules in death of lineman

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A supervisor has been found guilty of Occupational Health and Safety violations after the death of a SaskPower lineman in 2014.

Kleon Swahn, 45, was killed while repairing a broken high-voltage power line near Wakaw, Sask.

In a written decision, a provincial court judge found that supervisor Kelvin Rowlett didn't follow safety procedures and didn't ensure that the line was safe before it was cut. On Wednesday, he was fined a total of $28,000.

"I found Mr. Rowlett to be not entirely credible in his attempts to distance himself from the incident, minimize his involvement and not take responsibility for his actions and inactions," wrote Judge James Rybchuk.

In December of 2014, the SaskPower line crew was called out to repair a line break on a high voltage power line. When the crew tried to use a bucket truck to reach the break, they found it wasn't tall enough, and had to come up with a new plan.

Eventually, Swahn was asked to work on a section of the line that had been grounded and pulled down to the ground. However, a jumper cable hadn't been attached to the line that would have made the section safe.

Swahn picked up the wire with both of his hands. The wire was cut and he was electrocuted.

More planning needed

In his decision, the judge found that an adequate safety plan hadn't been written up once the circumstances of the job had changed.

While supervisor Rowlett argued that SaskPower rules only require a verbal safety meeting, the judge decided that the installation of a jumper cable hadn't been discussed at all, which led to the accident.

In his testimony to police, Rowlett told officers that he believed they had talked about the jumper cable, while a third lineman on the scene testified that he didn't remember the safety measure ever being discussed.

"SaskPower requires these tailboard meetings and risk management plans be documented in order to avoid any confusion or conflict over the steps to be taken to manage work risks," wrote Judge Rybchuk. "The fact Mr. Rowlett chose not to document this meeting affects his credibility and version of events at the second meeting."

The judge didn't agree with Rowlett's assertion that installing a jumper cable was "lineman 101" and workers shouldn't need to be reminded to do so.

"People can, and do, forget," wrote the judge. "That is the reason why all tasks need to be assessed to identify the risks, especially where the risk is between the life and death of a worker."

The judge also noted that while he had 17 years of experience, Swahn didn't regularly work on large line repair jobs, and was only called out when crews needed an extra worker. As well, Swahn and Rowlett didn't regularly work together.

On leave

SaskPower placed Rowlett on paid leave after he was found guilty. He will remain on leave while the power corporation does an internal review.

"Putting him on paid leave for two or three weeks is a reasonable course of action for our company," said Brian Ketcheson, vice-president of SaskPower. "We've got a number of employees who work with Kelvin, and they're feeling not only the effects of Kleon Swahn, but also of a colleague who's living this every day."

The company said the next-most recent employee killed on the job was in 2009.

Since Swahn's death, the crown corporation has brought in a safety improvement program, made up of supervisors and union representatives.

"Our goal is zero incidents," said Ketcheson. "If we have one incident, that's too many."