Many people are killed and injured each year by coming in contact with live overhead power lines or when flashovers happen. The risk is even higher if your occupation involves tall vehicles and long equipment, for example, elevated work platforms, vehicle mounted cranes, scaffold poles or combines, sprayer booms and irrigation pipes.
Accidents have happened after mistaking overhead power lines for telephone wires; add to the fact that electricity can, under moist conditions, pass through wood, plastic and even rubber then subsequently flash over, you don’t even need to be touching the conductor to be shocked. And don’t be fooled; you cannot rely on gloves or rubber boots for protection.
As a consequence of these risks, stringent health and safety measures must be implemented when working with, or near overhead power lines. And here the ball rests firmly in the employer’s court.
Any company whose business operations fall into this category must ensure their duty of care is fulfilled at all times and should have conducted an in-depth risk assessment and referred to the various controlling documents regarding the industry sector. Only by doing so, can personal safety be reasonably assured.
What should employers do?
Planning and management must be meticulous when working near electric overhead power lines so that all persons are free from risk of accidental contact. These areas and their near proximity must be adequately controlled at all times, with sufficient signage clearly visible as a warning. These precautions will vary and depend on the nature of the work. The safety aims may be achieved by a number of actions:
- Planning and preparation, including risk assessment.
- Training of personnel.
- Reduction and removal of risk and danger
- Control of access
- Control and manage the work effectively.
How to reduce danger and risk
Very often, the danger cannot be simply removed from the equation, and where this is the case, the focus then becomes one of reducing danger and minimising risk, making things as safe as practicably possible, such as the control of access and managing the area near and around the ‘works’ in an effective manner.
For example, ensure storage areas, materials and temporary structures are erected and sited at safe distances from the work in hand where possible. Divert overhead lines away from the work area, and check if there are times the lines can be made dead while the work is being done. However, where overhead lines pass over permanent work areas this is not always possible.
Control of access
Controlling access is essential when carrying out work near overhead power lines and where access and passage way is required. And to that end, warning signage, clearly visible at all times, and barriers, are both all seen as effective lines of protection and defence.
Barriers must be erected at the correct clearance distance from power lines to warn of the dangers of closer approach. Safe clearance distances can be obtained from the Distribution Network Operator (DNO). Further essential reading includes HSE guidance document ‘Avoidance of danger from overhead electric power lines and Electricity at Work’
Controlling and managing the work activities
Where work underneath live overhead power lines cannot be avoided, in addition to barriers and warning notices, the following additional actions may also be required:
- Exclusion – any vehicles, plant, machinery, equipment, or materials capable of reaching beyond the safe clearance distance should be prevented from coming too close to live lines.
- Where this measure is impractical, all equipment, plant, and vehicles that pose such risk should only be modified to include adequate restraint that cannot be tampered with, or changed readily by unauthorised persons.
- Movement in and around the site should be controlled by, and under the direct supervision of a suitable person appointed to ensure that safety precautions are observed and rules are followed.
- Frequent safety checks and audits.
- Induction and safety awareness training.
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