Company agrees to $10K fine for worker deaths

By: - May 25, 2022 5:15 pm

Companies are supposed to call 811 to report upcoming excavation work before digging so that underground utility lines can be identified. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A North Carolina company did not alert its employees to nearby high-voltage, underground power lines before they dug to install fiber optic cable in Pella in 2020, according to a recent lawsuit by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

As a result, two workers were electrocuted when a jackhammer struck the 12,470-volt electrical line at an intersection two blocks north of the town square. Their employer, MCS Communications, has agreed to pay a $10,000 penalty to the state to settle the matter, court records show.

The incident was among a number of missteps the lawsuit documented as MCS workers installed the city’s communications network, Pella Fiber, in June, August and October that year. The $7.4 million network provides high-speed internet, television and telephone services to residents and businesses, according to a city press release.

MCS had followed Iowa law when it notified the state it planned to dig in Pella to install the network, and those who had underground utility lines in the area had marked the ground to signify their presence.

The workers attempted to determine the precise locations of those buried lines by using pressurized air or water to burrow into the ground and reveal them, and they found what they believed to be excess concrete from a nearby street curb, according to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration report. In violation of MCS policy, they used a jackhammer to break through that concrete and struck the electrical line, which killed Genis Urgell Rueda, 35, and Nelson Joani Figueroa, 20, both of Richmond, Virginia, according to the Des Moines Register. Another worker suffered minor injuries.

An OSHA investigation that was launched shortly after the workers’ deaths found the company had committed four workplace safety violations and fined it $12,250 in January 2021 as part of an informal settlement.

State Attorney General Tom Miller’s lawsuit also noted five other instances of MCS workers damaging existing natural gas pipelines and communications lines during the fiber optics installation.

The Attorney General’s Office often negotiates settlements before filing suit against companies, said Lynn Hicks, a spokesperson for the office, and the MCS lawsuit was filed and settled in court on Wednesday.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.