Safety while working at height is generally focused on providing fall protection measures to the workers. But when working at height, there is another danger that employers need to be aware of. A danger that you can generally spot when looking up; overhead power lines.
Working near overhead power lines poses the risk of electrocution. Last year a video surfaced of a teenager throwing something against an overhead power line. The power lines gave off an electric shock, much like a lightning bolt, that nearly struck the teenager standing on the ground. So even when you do not touch the actual lines, electricity can “jump” across gaps. Being close to a power line for example when bringing construction materials to site, can be dangerous. To prevent electrocutions safety measures need to be taken when working near power lines.
As with any work situation, and especially when working at height, a risk assessment should be executed before starting work. Think about all the different jobs that need to be executed on the site and the potential risks employees face. Your analysis should take into account any situation that could lead to danger for a worker or the general public. If there are overhead power lines near the work site or near the edges of the worksite, contact the owners of the lines. Discuss the safety measures you want to take with them, to see if the proposed plan is accurate.
The risk assessment is not a static document, whenever the worksite changes new risks can arise that need to be covered.
The best way to avoid danger is by keeping a safe distance between the work and the power lines. For the USA, OSHA has set a minimum safety distance which needs to be kept from power lines. (In other countries officials have also determined a minimum safety distance. We recommend you check local standards to ensure you work safely)
To maintain this safe distance, boundaries need to be set up. This can be established with flags, etc. Keep in mind the maximum working radius of equipment, and ensure that equipment cannot extend higher than the safety zone. In situations where materials have to be moved a spotter can help ensure that the safe boundary isn’t crossed.
There may be work situations in which you cannot keep a large barrier between a power line and the work area. Or where the maximum range of the equipment, for example a boom lift, puts you closer than 20 feet to a power line. In such cases you should discuss with the power line owner/operator if the lines can be de-energized and visibly grounded at the worksite. Plus you should implement measures, such as a high-visibility warning line with flags that indicate the end of the safe zone.
As with any hazard, employees working at height near overhead power lines need to be trained. Their training should include both fall prevention measures and safety measures to prevent electrocution.
Employees need to know what steps to take should contact be made with a power line. Meaning they learn about emergency procedures and the consequences of not following these procedures.
Download safety poster
Keep your workers safe from electrocution risks. To help raise awareness among workers we’ve produced a poster with emergency procedures and clearance distances. Download it here.