Was Con Ed worker death avoidable?

February 4, 2009 6:12:37 PM PST
Funeral services were held Tuesday for a 26-year-old Con Edison worker killed in a manhole explosion last week in Brooklyn. George Dillman was the third Con Ed worker killed on the job in the last four years. What went wrong, and was the latest death preventable?

Hundreds came to say goodbye to Dillman, including his Con Ed co-workers and his friends from the Hicksville Fire Department where he volunteered. The cable splicer died when the manhole he was working in exploded. The latest fatality is causing some to think the worst about a utility with a long history of injuries and death.

"When something like this happens, we need to make sure there is an investigation because of their history of lying and their history of the disregard of the safety of their own workers and the public," City Councilman Peter Vallone said.

A similar manhole explosion four years ago killed two Con Ed workers in Yonkers. A federal government investigation found Con Edison had violated basic safety standards, including improper training and failure to protect workers. The company was fined $35,000, the maximum penalty under the law.

Former Con Ed worker Ariel Antonmarchi, a whistle blower on safety issues and a former Con Ed worker, believes last week's death did not have to happen.

"My theory is preventive maintenance wasn't corrected prior to the man going into the manhole," he said. "Months ago, it was a hot spot. He went down, they encountered a problem and it became a tragedy."

Con Ed says it is trying to determine what caused the explosion. Some workers we spoke to off camera say no one is to blame, that their jobs are inherently dangerous. But a veteran worker says training has been greatly accelerated, leading to cable splicers being sent underground with not enough experience. Dillman had been with Con Ed just three years. His partner, only one.

"Who was there with him?" Antonmarchi asked. "Was a senior man on the top? Or was his safety manager a senior man? Or was there a supervisor in the area? Did they do a safety check in the manhole before he went in?"

A spokesman for Con Ed says Dillman was doing routine maintenance on low-voltage cables, which does not require a supervisor on location.

Con Ed also says the 2004 Yonkers manhole deaths bear no resemblance to what happened last week in Brooklyn.

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STORY BY: The Investigators' Jim Hoffer

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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