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PUC Links 5 Deaths to Lax Safety by Edison

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five people have died, including an 11-year-old girl at a pool party, and 26 have been seriously injured because Southern California Edison failed to follow proper safety rules, a division of the California Public Utilities Commission charged Monday.

“The series of serious injuries involving SCE’s facilities, coupled with staff’s finding a continuing pattern of a high level of violations during inspections, are cause for serious concern,” the PUC said in an order launching an investigation of how the Rosemead-based utility builds, runs and maintains its electric lines and facilities.

The commission’s Consumer Services Division said Edison, a unit of Edison International, committed more than 4,700 safety violations in its construction, operations and maintenance practices from 1998 through 2000.

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Edison received notices about each violation, the commission said, adding that the report “suggests that there may have been a significant number of fatalities and injuries that might have been prevented by compliance with safety standards.”

Thirty-seven accidents resulted from the violations, according to the PUC division, including one on July 3, 2000, in which an 11-year-old Inglewood girl climbed a swimming pool ladder and came into contact with an electrical service wire that dangled only three feet above the pool slide. The girl died.

Edison serves 11 million customers from Visalia to Palm Springs and from the Pacific Coast to the state’s eastern borders. The company said it is reviewing the allegations and taking them “very seriously.”

“In simple terms, the safety of the public and our employees is a core value at Southern California Edison, and has been a top priority of our business for over 100 years,” the utility said in a statement.

“SCE people work very hard to maintain safe and reliable operations despite the constant ravages of weather, natural disasters, vandalism, normal wear-and-tear and all the other factors that affect the electric facilities spread across our vast 50,000-square-mile service area,” the utility said, terming its maintenance program “aggressive.”

The report alleged that safety violations led to four other deaths:

* On April 7, 2000, an Edison employee was killed while working on a transformer in Rancho Palos Verdes. Two other employees were injured. The Consumer Services Division investigation found that the employees did not receive clear instructions from an on-site supervisor and did not use protective equipment.

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* On Dec. 18, 1998, a tree trimmer who was trying to remove a tree in Inglewood cut into a 16,000-volt conductor. The PUC division found that the conductor had no “high voltage” sign and was touching the rubber tree.

* On Nov. 14, 1998, a tree trimmer removing an avocado tree in Altadena touched a 16,000-volt conductor with his saw. The Edison pole supporting the conductor did not carry a “high voltage” sign.

* On June 21, 1998, a man allegedly trying to steal Edison property for salvage was electrocuted when he climbed a pole in Lancaster that was supposed to be abandoned and touched some energized equipment. The pole was not serving customers, the report states, and all equipment should have been removed by Edison.

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