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Workers on leave in co-worker’s death to challenge Modesto’s allegations against them

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Modesto has placed electricians on paid leave pending discipline as a result of its review of last April’s electrocution of an electrician assistant who was part of a crew installing a streetlight pole that made contact with a high-voltage power line
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Modesto has placed electricians on paid leave pending discipline as a result of its review of last April’s electrocution of an electrician assistant who was part of a crew installing a streetlight pole that made contact with a high-voltage power line

The three Modesto city workers placed on paid leave after a co-worker’s death have requested hearings where they can challenge the city’s allegations and proposed discipline against them.

Modesto on April 8 placed electricians Allen Garan and Ricardo Lacerda and electrical supervisor Rodney Nelson on paid leave pending discipline, according to the city. City spokesman Thomas Reeves said the three requested hearings this week.

The city placed them on leave after completing and reviewing two investigations it conducted in the April 9, 2018, electrocution of electrician assistant Tyrone Hairston.

Hairston was working with Garan and Lacerda on installing a streetlight pole with a mast arm at Floyd and Roselle avenues when the arm made contact with a high-voltage power line. Hairston, who was wearing cloth gloves and not high-voltage rated ones, was guiding the pole with his hands.

The crew was using a boom truck to hoist and lift the pole when the “mast arm unexpectedly rotated up and came near or in contact with the power line. There was the sound of electricity zapping,” according to one of the city investigations.

The investigations found critical deficiencies in training, safety and other areas. For instance, the streetlight was “assembled and hoisted in (an) improper manner to maintain safe working clearance from high voltage lines,” states the Serious Accident Review Team report, one of the two city investigations.

The investigations also found that electricians only receive on-the-job training in installing streetlight poles, the city has no written guidelines, and there was no evidence that employees were holding safety meetings before starting a job. Modesto also did not require employees to be certified to operate cranes and similar equipment.

The three employees have requested what is known as a Skelly hearing. They will have the chance to defend themselves and refute the city’s allegations against them. The hearing officer can uphold the city’s allegations and proposed discipline, modify them or request additional information.

Reeves said the hearings have not yet been scheduled. But Human Resources Director Norma Santoyo has said hearings usually are held within a week or two of an employee requesting one, and the hearing officer typically makes a decision within several days of the hearing.

Modesto has not said what city policies and rules it alleges the three employees violated or the discipline it wants to impose against them, though an attorney representing Garan and Lacerda has said they face the loss of their jobs.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, issued four citations and a $39,750 penalty in August against Modesto for safety violations in the accident. Modesto is appealing, but that is on hold while Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations conducts its own investigation of Hairston’s death.

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