Power Lines One of the Most Common Hazards of Working Outdoors

The thing about power lines is that they are everywhere. Rural areas, urban areas, suburbs, you name it. No matter where you are working, look up and there are bound to be overhead power lines.

Photo by Jinu Raghavan (via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jinu Raghavan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Touching an electrical line can result in instant electrocution, causing serious injury or even death. In fact, about 119 people were killed by overhead power line electrocution in the US between 2008 and 2010, accounting for about 4% of all occupational fatalities.

But you don’t have to touch a power line in order to be electrocuted. Electricity can jump to anybody who gets too close. So it’s a good idea to stay at least 10 feet away from power lines and their connections.

Avoiding Power Line Dangers

The most common reason workers get electrocuted by power lines is that they forget to look up when raising a ladder or pole. It’s a simple thing but one that can easily be ignored.

Electricity naturally wants to move from a high voltage zone to a low voltage zone and it won’t let anything stand in its way, including your body.

Whenever possible, workers should use wooden or fiberglass ladders when working outdoors. Neither of these will easily conduct electricity, unlike metal or aluminum ladders.

If a co-worker is electrocuted by a power line, don’t touch them because the electricity can pass from their body into yours. Instead call 911 immediately. If you have to knock them off when they are hung up, use something that won’t conduct electricity, like a wooden 2X4.

Downed Power Lines

Watch where you are going so you don’t accidentally¬†step on a live downed wire. Contact the utility company immediately to report a downed power line.

Always assume that a fallen power line is live, staying at least 10 feet away from it. There’s no way to tell by looking at it whether there is electricity running through it or not.

Make sure the power line isn’t touching anything that can conduct its electricity, such as a metal fence, pooling water, or even a tree limb. Even the ground around a live power line can be energized, up to 35 feet away.

Other Precautions

The best way to move away from a live wire is to shuffle using small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This minimizes the risk for the electricity jumping to your body.

Don’t drive over a downed power line. If your car somehow comes into contact with a live wire while you are inside it, stay in the car. Honk your car to summon help but warn other people to stay away from your vehicle.