Work near overhead power lines: the basics

Whether it’s a mobile crane unloading a truck, a tipper truck being raised, a ladder, scaffold tube or jet of water, the outcome of contact with an overhead power line can be serious; often fatal.

In fact, contact between mobile plant and equipment with live overhead power lines is one of the biggest workplace killers – but many of these incidents have the same underlying causes:

  • operators failing to see the power lines (or realising the danger)
  • not maintaining a safe approach distance.

What is the risk?

Any voltage that causes sufficient current to pass through the heart – such as that found in live overhead power lines – can cause serious injury or death.

The discharge of electrical energy from contact with power lines can also cause serious burns, fires and explosions that can immobilise the equipment involved.

You don’t even have to have direct contact with a high voltage line to receive a fatal electric shock. Electricity can arc or jump across gaps, meaning that simply being too close can kill.

Even if a worker survives a close encounter with high voltage, their injuries can require intensive medical care and may render them out of action indefinitely.

Unfortunately, in 1999, 17 year old Tim was fatally electrocuted. Watch the video below as told by his father.

What is the impact on your business?

The effects on the injured worker and their family are obvious, but a simple lapse in concentration or supervision can also have a significant impact on your workplace. Lost time, a workers’ compensation claim, not to mention finding and retraining a replacement can all add extra burden to your business.

How can you avoid these incidents?

  • Your safest option is to relocate work away from overhead power lines wherever possible.
  • If it’s a short-term task, arrange with the electricity supply authority to have the power isolated.
  • For long term jobs, consult the electricity supply authority. They would assess the site and advise of appropriate controls that you should adhere to.

If you can’t avoid working near overhead power lines you need to properly assess and control the risks. That may mean having a supervisor on the ground to manage the risks. This will at least give you peace of mind to be able to focus on running your business and it could save a life.

Attention to detail is critical – potentially a matter of life or death – so please refer to our Work near overhead power lines: Code of practice, or call 13 10 50.

Back to top