Working and living in rural areas, we often take power lines for granted as they crisscross fields and properties. However, these unassuming wires carry extremely hazardous voltages and contacting them can be fatal. Each year, people are injured or killed in incidents involving overhead power lines (OHPLs). With some awareness and planning, these incidents can be prevented.
Risks and Hazards
OHPLs typically carry voltages from 11,000 to 400,000 volts. Contact with a live line, even at the lowest 11kV level, is often deadly. You do not need to directly touch a line either, as electricity can arc across gaps or travel through conductive equipment. Any equipment, water streams, tools, or materials that can reach power lines poses a risk for electrocution.
Common construction and agricultural machinery is particularly hazardous, especially tall vehicles like combines, sprayers, cranes, excavators and telehandlers. Augers, antennas, flashing lights, grain tank extensions and other attachments increase overall height and reach. Activities like moving irrigation pipes or sprinklers, stacking materials, erecting structures or buildings, and construction work also risk contact with lines. We must also consider risks to visitors enjoying activities we permit like fishing, kite flying and model aircraft operation e.g. drones.
Assessing and Controlling Risks
Conducting thorough risk assessments is crucial before undertaking any work near OHPLs. Important factors to consider include:
Maximum heights/reaches of all machinery to be used
Locations of all OHPLs mapped with maximum safe clearance heights
Operating voltages and minimum safe distances from distribution network operators
Hierarchy of control measures:
Avoid working near lines completely
Bury or reroute lines
Use machinery that can’t reach lines
Don’t allow high-risk activities near lines
Shut off power temporarily
If unavoidable, conduct rigorous assessments and implement robust safe systems of work
Specific guidance from the Health and Safety Executive focuses on operating rain/slurry equipment, irrigators, sprinklers, fencing, stacking materials, construction and more. Restricting high-reach equipment, fitting physical restraints, adding warnings, designating safe routes, and training workers are all key precautions. Carefully controlling work within 10 meters horizontally and 4 meters vertically of OHPLs is essential.
We must always stay alert to the hazard posed by power lines on our properties. Conducting thorough risk assessments, planning routes and work areas to avoid lines proactively, and training workers is key. Report any sagging lines immediately and consult experts whenever work near infrastructure is required. With proper precautions, we can prevent needless injuries and deaths from these silent electrical risks. Stay safe out there!