By Dakota Antelman, Managing Editor
REGION – Federal regulators took action to improve worker safety in tree and landscaping operations last week, just a matter of days after a man was fatally electrocuted while working near power lines in Northborough.
A statement from the US Department of Labor announced on Sept. 14 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Boston office had rolled out new enforcement and outreach efforts through a new “regional emphasis program.”
“The number of fatalities, injuries and uncontrolled hazards in the tree and landscaping industries in New England is alarming and unacceptable,” said OSHA Acting Regional Administrator Jeffrey Erskine in a press release. “These incidents are preventable with proper training and effective safety procedures.”
The statement did not directly address the Northborough incident, in which Joel Andrew Boulay Jr., 25, was killed after he came in contact with a high powered line.
Instead, it more broadly noted at least 31 worker deaths in New England since 2016. The statement said OSHA inspectors had identified a number of injuries and deaths caused by everything from falls, to electrocution.
This new emphasis program will begin with outreach to employees, workers and stakeholders before beginning enforcement in November.
“OSHA will then conduct programmed inspections of tree, landscape and site preparation worksites,” the statement read. “OSHA inspectors will also be able to open inspections on the spot if they observe hazardous conditions while traveling past worksites in the course of their duties.”
Workers group calls for further action following death
As OSHA takes action, workers health and safety group MassCOSH has weighed in directly on the death of Boulay Jr..
“We are very sad to hear that a young man has needlessly lost his life to a well-known hazard in his industry,” MassCOSH executive director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan said in a statement on Sept. 10. “This tragic fatality makes it clear that we are not prepared for climate change and its impact on workers.”
“To effectively honor [Boulay Jr.’s] life, we should ensure all those who work in this very dangerous industry receive the life-saving training needed to recognize hazards to stay safe on the job,” she continued.
MassCOSH has argued that an increase in severe weather events due to climate change has heightened the workload on companies and employers who handle fallen trees and downed power lines after storms.
“During storm recovery, clean-up workers comprise a key workforce of ‘second responders’ who take on demanding and often dangerous work helping with the removal of debris, the demolition of damaged structures, and rebuilding,” the group noted. “These workers are at high risk of injury and death.”
MassCOSH has called on Massachusetts leaders to adopt legislation mirroring a law in Connecticut that requires all employees doing arboriculture be state licensed arborists.
‘He enjoyed kayaking and snowmobiling’
Boulay Jr.’s tragic death, indeed, rattled the region this month.
Boulay Jr. had graduated from Leicester High School in 2014, according to his obituary, and had worked as a landscape contractor for Darryl Henry Arborist in Shrewsbury for the past five years.
“He enjoyed kayaking and snowmobiling,” the obituary noted.
He was in Northborough working as his company had been hired by a pair of homeowners living across the street from each other, Northborough police Lt. Brian Griffin said in a press conference on Sept. 8.