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How To Work Safely Near Power Lines

David Potter 11/11/15

Fatalities via Electrocution - Statistics

Over the years you must have seen countless news articles about a worker on a ladder hitting an overhead power line and therefore being electrocuted. As a matter of fact, death by electrocution is the major cause of death in construction and last year accounted for 20% of all fatalities. Four in twenty construction fatalities resulted from overhead contact with power lines. On these occasions, 3 out of four are from contact with ladders.

Fibreglass V Aluminum

If you need to work on ladders around electricity it is vital that you don't select an aluminium ladder for job as aluminium conducts electricity. If working with electricity minimize the risk with a fibreglass ladder. Fibreglass ladders do not absorb moisture or weaken when exposed to the sun and can also resist flames when working in dangerous conditions. Fibreglass may be heavier and have a higher price tag than the aluminium ladders but if you are working around electricity there should be no compromise, even wooden ladders can be fatal if there is moisture in the wood.

PLEASE NOTE: Just because you are using a fibreglass ladder doesn’t mean that you can lean your ladder against a power line.

Stay safe near power lines info-graphic

Planning and Preparing Work

If you are working around electricity the first protocol is to find out if there are any overhead power lines within the work area or across any access route. If you find any power lines you should assume that they are live and should contact the local electricity supplier or distribution, network operator. You should allow time for the lines to be diverted or made dead.

Eliminating The Danger 

You should always try to eliminate the danger when possible, you can do this by either avoidance or diversion.

Avoidance - Ensure if the work that you are carrying out needs to be carried out under or near overhead power lines, you may find that you can complete the work somewhere else. You should also make sure that materials are not placed near the power lines.

Diversion - If you can arrange overhead lines to be diverted away from the space you are working on then this would be the next step to eliminate the danger.

It may not always be possible to avoid or divert power lines in some cases and if this is the case you should manage the risk by controlling the access to and work underneath the power lines.

Controlling The Access

If you are not working under power lines you should erect barriers at the correct clearance distance from the power line, the safe distance should be ascertained from the Distribution Network Operator (DNO). If you are unsure on how these barriers should be constructed or have any other queries check out the HSE 'Avoidance of danger from overhead electric power lines and Electricity at work' guidance documents. You should also check that the danger area is as small as possible.

Controlling The Work

If you must work under power lines and there is absolutely nothing you can do to avoid the work, you should provide barriers, goal posts and warning notices. To manage the risk you should also take a look at the following precautions;

Clearance - Check with the DNO the safe clearance required under the power line.

Exclusion - If you have any vehicles or equipment including ladders that could reach beyond the safe distance, you should exclude these from use.

Modification - If you are carrying out the work using vehicles; for example cranes, they should be modified to ensure that these can not reach beyond the safe clearance distance.

Maintenance - Operators of high machinery should not carry out any work on top of the machinery if this is near overhead power lines.

Supervision - All work is carried out should be supervised by a competent person to ensure that all potential hazards and safety precautions have been observed.   

Ladder Contact With Power Lines

A fibreglass ladder does not conduct electricity however don't assume that if you are on a fibreglass ladder it will keep you safe from electric current. Overhead power lines can carry more than 700,000 volts and some may only be a couple of hundred. Werner is one of the biggest manufacturers of fibreglass ladders and the majority in their range are non-conductive to 30.000 volts including the Heavy Duty Fiberglass Extension Ladder and the Promaster Platform Stepladder.

If for whatever reason your ladder touches a power line do not think because it’s fibreglass you can just take it off, the same safety precautions should be taken out as if it was an aluminium ladder. You should contact the Distribution Network Operator immediately and in due course warn others to stay away until you have the all-clear from the DNO. Do not try and move the equipment until the owner of the line has confirmed it has been made safe to do so.

Further Reading & Advice

If you have any concerns regarding working at height safely you can give our expert team a call on 01204 590 232 or drop us an e-mail on sales@ladderstore.com. If you would like to continue reading and find out more information about working safely near power lines you can download the ‘Working safely near overhead electricity power lines’ publication from the HSE.