Death of College Point man preventable: Federal report

Death of College Point man preventable: Federal report
By Stephen Stirling

A federal investigation into the death of a College Point Con Edison splicer who died in a Brooklyn manhole fire last year found he was not properly trained and concluded that the utility failed to take steps that could have prevented the fatal accident.

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has recommended Con Ed be fined $15,000 for six “serious” violations it found stemming from the accident that killed 26−year−old George Dillman.

Dillman, who had been working with the utility for three years, was splicing two high−voltage cables together beneath Sutter and Euclid avenues in East New York Oct. 9 when an explosion occurred, shooting flames out of the manhole and killing him.

Following the accident, Con Ed said Dillman had extensive training and there was no need to shut off power to the cables, as he worked on them.

But the report, issued March 16, said just the opposite.

OSHA said Dillman was “not trained in the procedures” necessary to complete the work when he entered the manhole, that the utility had known about the “deteriorating cable, presence of oil and unexplained noises” at the site for at least two weeks prior to the accident and “because of these factors they needed to de−energize the cables” when the 26−year−old was working on them.

In a statement, Con Ed said it is reviewing the citations and has improved safety since Dillman’s death.

“Following the accident, we took immediate steps to ensure that all of our employees who work with power cables in manholes follow strict safety procedures and guidelines,” the statement said. “We have openly shared with OSHA the measures we are taking to do everything possible to prevent something like this from happening again.”

A Queens native, Dillman attended Holy Trinity Roman Catholic School in Whitestone and St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows, where he graduated in 2000. He had been working at Con Ed for about three years and was a volunteer firefighter at the Hicksville Fire Department in Long Island, the same community where he lived at the time of his death.

Hundreds of family, friends, firefighters, utility workers and former classmates, many forced to stand, crowded into Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church to mourn the death of Dillman at his funeral in the week following his death.

Dillman’s family, scheduled to hold the George Dillman Benefit Paintball Game in his honor April 18, said they could not comment on the findings due to potential legal action.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D−Astoria), a frequent critic of Con Ed, said the OSHA penalties do not go far enough.

“It continues a pattern that we’ve seen all too often, which is recognition of violations, wrongdoing, without any substantial penalty,” he said. “A $15,000 penalty to Con Edison won’t mean anything to them.”

He added, “From what I’ve seen from Con Edison, they don’t take action unless it comes back to hurt their bottom line and this isn’t going to do that.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.