Working Outdoors around Electricity

Most of what we do on a daily basis is powered by electricity. Power networks run the width and breadth of the country powering businesses and homes. In some cases, the power is overhead in power lines that we can see and in other cases the power is buried in underground cables; either way, contact with electricity can cause serious injury or kill.

Whether you are outdoors working with a ladder or doing work up on the roof, whether you are using heavy equipment or whether you are digging a trench there is a real danger of coming in contact with power lines.

Contractors must have a written policy outlining procedures to keep workers at a safe distance from electrical current. Some of these basic rules are as follows:

  • Start with a visual inspection for powerlines. Look up!
  • Even if you believe that the power lines are not powered at the time of work, always work as if they were. Never assume that power isn’t flowing.
  • Make sure you know what the voltage in the powerlines is. If necessary, call the power company to find out.
  • Always make sure that the hazard is clearly identified and visible regardless of weather and lighting conditions. Signs such as “Danger! Electrical Powerlines Overhead” should be placed so that truck drivers and crane operators will see them.
  • Make sure that any and all equipment operators have been properly trained and notified of the potential of electrical hazards.
  • Stay a minimum of 10 feet away from power lines and power equipment such as generators of 50,000 volts or less. Add ½” to the minimum distance for every 1,000 volts over 50,000.
  • If it is not possible to stay under the minimum distance, an observer should be present to give you help maintaining a safe clearance.
  • Use only nonconductive ladders and tools.
  • Plan for accidents. In other words, when you set up ladders for example, figure out how to do it so that, if the ladder should slip, it will still not come in contact with powerlines.

(For more information about outdoor work around electricity visit the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health online here).