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HVAC Contractor and Employee Electrocuted in Crawlspace in North Carolina

Electrocution Fatality Investigation Reports

The following is a fatality investigation report of an incident where electrical incidents resulted in the death of a worker. This case was investigated by NIOSH.

HVAC Contractor and Employee Electrocuted in Crawlspace--North Carolina

FACE 94-17    


A 46-year-old male HVAC contractor and his 23-year-old employee (the victims) were electrocuted while installing air conditioning duct work in a crawlspace. The contractor and employee were installing a combination heating, ventilating, and air conditioning unit at a private residence. The employee was under a 38-inch-high crawlspace installing aluminum straps around the new duct work, using an electric drill to install screws through the straps. As the employee drilled a hole, the sharp edge of the strap contacted house wiring attached to a floor joist above him, damaging its insulation. This action allowed the drill bit and strap, which the employee was holding, to become energized. The current passed through the employee to ground, either through a cast iron sewer drain pipe or through cold water pipes in the immediate working area of the victim. The contractor, installing duct work in the attic, was summoned to the crawlspace by the residence owner, who had heard noise in the crawlspace. The contractor called into the crawl space for the employee, but did not receive an answer. The contractor entered the crawlspace and grabbed the victim while leaning against the same water pipe as the victim, allowing the current to flow through him to the ground. The owner of the residence pulled the main circuit breaker for the house and called 911. Police, fire, and emergency medical service personnel responded to the scene and, finding both men in cardiac arrest, initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The victims were transported to the local hospital, where they were pronounced dead by the attending physician. NIOSH investigators determined that, in order to prevent similar incidents, employers should:

  • conduct a jobsite survey before starting any work to identify any hazards, implement appropriate control measures, and provide subsequent training to employees specific to all identified hazards
  • develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive written safety program
  • provide additional electrical safety training to those workers working with or around electrical current, including proper rescue procedures.

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