5 tips for working around electrical lines

Precautions can be the difference between life and death

5 tips for working around electrical lines

Working around electricity can be deadly and there are many jobs that require taking a calculated risk. Arborists, contractors, scaffolders, crane operators, television news truck operators, and many other professions sometimes involve working around powerlines. Here are five critical tips that significantly reduce the risk of injury or death while working around live electrical wires.

  1.  Identify the hazards

The Infrastructure Health and Safety Association says workers need to recognize where electrical hazards, like live powerlines, poles, and conductors are located. It’s also important to know what other objects are in the vicinity such as trees and building structures. The IHSA says a careful assessment should be conducted during the planning phase of the project, “consider whether the type of work being done or the type of equipment being used may come close to powerlines to present an electrical hazard.” The association says employers have a responsibility to their workers to “take every reasonable precaution to prevent hazards to workers from energized electrical equipment, installations, and conductors.”

  1. Stay at a safe distance

Once the electrical hazards have been identified, it’s important for workers to keep a safe distance from those threats. The minimum distance depends on the voltage rating of the powerlines. Ontario utility service Hydro One outlines the following recommendations for minimum distance:

  • Less than 750 volts -1 metre
  • 750 to 150,000 volts - 3 metres
  • 150,001 to 250,00 volts - 4.5 metes
  • 250,001+ volts - 6 metres

Even though it’s okay to be within one metre of 750 volt powerlines, Hydro One says they can still be dangerous, and workers should avoid touching them or coming too close. It also says equipment, tools, and other work materials should not be stored under power lines, and if there is no other option, then warning signs should be posted to keep people aware of the threat hanging above.

Read More: Electrical shock costs aggregates firm $19K

  1. Eliminate or control the hazards

Once the electrical hazards have been identified and everyone knows what the proper distances are to keep away from them, they now need to be either eliminated or controlled. The IHSA lists five control methods and says there is a hierarchy of effectiveness among these methods. The most effective control method is elimination, which means physically removing the hazard. Depending on the utility provider and jurisdiction, it may be possible to call the utility service and have the powerlines temporarily removed. The next control method is substitution, which means replacing the electrical hazard.

Engineering controls involve isolating workers from the hazard, but moderate risk remains. The IHSA says this can include asking the owner of the powerline to raise or move them, making it harder for workers to go beyond the minimum safe distance. This can include installing powerline coverups to protect workers from accidental contact.

Administrative controls are the fourth method, and that means changing the work process. This could include designating an employee as a signaller to make sure workers and equipment do not go beyond the safe minimum distance.  It can also mean ensuring an emergency response plan is in place to treat electrical injuries immediately with first aid supplies.

And the final control method is personal protective equipment.  “Although using or wearing PPE is not the mot effective method of injury prevention according to the hierarchy of controls, it can still minimize exposure to a hazard or reduce its severity,” says the IHSA.  PPE can include hard hats, work boots, safety glasses, high-visibility safety vests, protective gloves, and hearing protection devices.

Read more: Electrical Safety Authority warns merrymakers to 'look up and look out' to avoid getting zapped

  1. Meet all legal requirements

Before beginning any project involving electrical powerlines, it is critical employers know the local laws and regulations governing occupational health and safety. These typically fall under provincial jurisdiction, but municipalities may also have bylaws governing this type of work. Employers should know these rules inside and out and take appropriate measures to protect themselves from costly legal consequences. 

  1. How to react if electrical contact is made

Even the most careful workers can find themselves in harms way while working around highly charged electrical lines. If a worker is operating equipment that contacts powerlines, Hydro One says the first thing to do is do nothing. “Another wrong move may result in serious injury or fatality,” says the utility service. It says the equipment and the person operating it could potentially be carrying a current flowing through to the ground. It suggests workers should only move if they feel they absolutely must, but this should be a last resort. Instead, a call should be placed to the utility service as well as 911 or other emergency responders. Hydro One also says the person in contact with the powerlines should warn others to stay at least 10 metres away.

These critical safety tips for working around electrical powerlines could be the difference between life and death.