Lessons from the Field: Protect Yourself Near Power Lines

A 27-year-old tree trimmer was electrocuted when the bucket truck he was working from came in contact with an overhead power line.

In an unrelated case, a painter died when his 40-foot aluminum ladder touched a 13.8 kilovolt overhead power line.

Cases of on-the-job injuries involving power lines are common. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created regulations to help protect your employees. In most cases, OSHA regulations are the “law of the land.” Working near power lines is a rare exception.

What’s the issue?

It is critical that employees watch out for each other on the job, especially when working near power lines.

It is critical that employees watch out for each other on the job, especially when working near power lines.

Under OSHA standards, employees must maintain a minimum of 10 feet (scroll to bottom of page for a voltage/clearance table) from overhead power lines. The Texas Health and Safety Code (THSC) supersedes OSHA’s standard, setting the minimum distance at six feet. The six-foot standard applies to employees, tools, materials, machinery and structures such as oil rigs being moved between drilling locations.

What does it mean to you?
The electricity flowing through power lines is strong enough to kill. Most importantly, violating the law could result in the loss of an employee. That is a tragedy you will never recover from. There are also legal implications for employers.

If an employee makes contact with an overhead power line and gets injured while violating the THSC six-foot standard, the employer can be fined. They are also responsible for liability the utility company incurs. Liability can include equipment damage and the costs associated with lawsuits.

How do you protect your employees and your business?
The THSC does not prohibit employees from working within six feet of overhead power lines. It does, however, require employers to take specific steps in advance:

  1. Contact the utility company 48 hours before beginning work.
  2. Coordinate with the utility company to protect your employees. Safety precautions may include temporarily de-energizing and grounding power lines, relocating or raising the lines, or using mechanical barriers to separate the lines from employees, materials and tools.
  3. Reimburse the utility company for expenses associated with step 2. The utility company may require payment in advance.

What else can you do?
Following state and federal laws is a good start toward protecting your employees. If you want to take your safety program beyond compliance, promote these best practices::

  • Do not work near power lines unless you have been properly trained.
  • Locate all overhead and buried power lines before you start working, and post warning signs. To find out where power lines are buried, call 811, use the app or call the utility company.
  • Survey the area for tree limbs and other obstructions, but do not remove them yourself. Report them to your supervisor before starting work.
  • Use nonconductive ladders and tools.
  • Unless you know otherwise, assume power lines are energized.
  • Ask other crew members to watch you closely, especially if you have to use a crane or other high-reaching equipment near a power line.
  • Before you do any non-routine task, such as working above the neutral line, talk to your supervisor.
  • Ensure that no materials are stored under power lines.
  • Use caution tape and signs to cordon off the area under power lines.
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out unless the vehicle is on fire. If you must exit, jump clear of the vehicle with your feet together, and continue to “bunny hop” with your feet together.

Get more information
For more information about working near power lines, use these free resources:

For previous installments of “Lessons from the Field,” click the links below:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: