Protection While Working Around Overhead Power Lines

Protection While Working Around Overhead Power Lines

Power lines are a necessary part of our infrastructure but can also be very dangerous. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 30 fatalities yearly in the United States from contact with power lines. To stay safe while working around these lines, it is important to know the hazards and take appropriate precautions. In this blog post, we will discuss the dangers of working around power lines and outline some steps you can take to stay safe.

Protection from Overhead Power Lines

Before working under or near overhead power lines, ensure that you maintain a safe distance to the lines and, for very high-voltage lines, ground any equipment, such as cranes, that can become energized. If working on power lines, ensure that the lines have been de-energized and grounded by the owner or operator of the lines. Other protective measures like guarding or insulating the lines help prevent accidental contact.

Employees unqualified to work with electricity and mechanical equipment should remain at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines. If the voltage exceeds 50,000 volts, the clearance increases by 4 inches for each additional 10,000 volts. When mechanical equipment is operated near overhead lines, employees standing on the ground should avoid contact with it unless it is located outside the danger zone. Consider the equipment’s maximum reach when factoring in the safe standoff distance.

Remember these important safe practices when working around downed power lines:

  • Do NOT assume that a downed conductor is safe simply because it is on the ground or not sparking.
  • Do NOT assume all coated, weatherproof, or insulated wires are just telephone, television, or fiber-optic cables.
  • Low-hanging wires still have voltage potential, even without touching the ground. So, “don’t touch them.” Everything is energized until tested to be energized.
  • Never go near a downed or fallen electric power line. Always assume it is energized. Touching it could be fatal.
  • Electricity can spread outward through the ground in a circular shape from the point of contact. As you move away from the center, large differences in voltages can be created.
  • Never drive over downed power lines. Assume that they are energized. And, even if they are not, downed lines can become entangled in your equipment or vehicle.
  • If contact with an energized power line is made while in a vehicle, remain calm and do not get out unless the vehicle is on fire. If possible, call for help.
  • If you must exit any equipment for fire or other safety reasons, try to jump completely clear, ensuring that you do not simultaneously touch the equipment and the ground. Land with both feet together and shuffle away in small steps to minimize the path of electric current and avoid electrical shock. Be careful to maintain your balance.

Electrical Protective Equipment

Employees who work directly with electricity should use the personal protective equipment required for their jobs. This equipment may include rubber-insulating gloves, hoods, sleeves, matting, blankets, line hoses, and industrial protective helmets designed to reduce electric shock hazards. All this help reduce the risk of electrical accidents. General safe practices include:

  • Electrical protective equipment must be periodically tested by the test tables found in OSHA 1910.137, Electrical Protective Equipment.
  • Insulating equipment must be inspected for damage before each day’s use. Equipment with other defects affecting its insulating properties shall be removed from service and returned for testing.
  • The arc-rated protective clothing and other protective equipment generally must cover the worker’s entire body, except for hands, feet, head, and face, which may be protected by other PPE.


Appropriate and properly maintained tools help protect workers against electric hazards. It is important to maintain tools regularly because it prevents them from deteriorating and becoming dangerous. Check each tool before using it. If you find a defect, immediately remove it from service and tag it so no one will use it until it has been repaired or replaced.

When using a tool to handle energized conductors, check to ensure it is designed and constructed to withstand the voltages and stresses exposed.

Training Requirements

All employees should be trained to be thoroughly familiar with the safety procedures for their jobs. Moreover, good judgment and common sense are integral to preventing electrical accidents. When working on electrical equipment, for example, some basic procedures to follow are:

  • Assume that all overhead wires are energized at lethal voltages. Never assume that a wire is safe to touch even if it is down or appears to be insulated.
  • Never touch a fallen overhead power line. Call the electric utility company to report fallen electrical lines.
  • Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead wires during cleanup and other activities. If working at heights or handling long objects, survey the area before starting work for the presence of overhead wires.
  • If an overhead wire falls across your vehicle while driving, stay inside the vehicle and continue to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not leave your vehicle. Warn people not to touch the vehicle or the wire. Call or ask someone to call the local electric utility company and emergency services.
  • Never operate electrical equipment while you are standing in water.
  • Never repair electrical cords or equipment unless qualified and authorized.
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.
  • If working in damp locations, inspect electric cords and equipment to ensure that they are in good condition and free of defects, and use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
  • Always use caution when working near electricity.

Working around electricity can be dangerous. Always take precautions to avoid electrical accidents. Be sure to wear the proper protective gear, use the right tools, and follow all safety procedures. Training is also essential to ensure that employees are familiar with the risks and how to avoid them. Following these guidelines can help keep your workplace safe from electrical hazards.

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