Contact with Power Lines | Fatalities

Of the many dangers facing construction workers, hazards of working in close proximity to high-voltage power lines are near the top of the list.  Without realizing it, mobile cranes (cherry pickers, man lifts, crane booms, boom lifts, basket cranes, etc.) can easily come into contact with live power lines, leading to potentially serious or fatal injuries of electrocution.

OSHA has published rules for safe crane operations near live power lines, but rules alone can’t ensure safety.  Not only do crane operators themselves need to have the right training and skill to safely and responsibly operate a crane, but all crew members at a construction site need to give their undivided attention to the task at hand and be aware of their surroundings.  Depending on your vantage point, it may appear that a crane is far enough away from a power line, but in actuality, it could be too close to the line.  The vantage point of crane operators themselves can sometimes be deceiving on actual depth and distance from an energized line.  That’s why OSHA recommends that a crew have a designated person whose sole duty is to keep a lookout on the clearance space between the equipment and power lines and timely warn others when getting too close.

According to the National Safety Council, common scenarios that can lead to power line accidents include (1) when a crane moves a load to or from an area underneath a power line, (2) cranes at a highway construction site near power lines that run either parallel to the highway or across it, (3) core or post hole drilling near power lines, and (4) swinging into or booming out into a power line that appeared further away than it truly was.

In addition to having a designated crew member act as a lookout, some other safeguards include getting a power company to temporarily de-energize and visibly ground the power line before beginning work in an area in close proximity to high-voltage lines.  Also, incorporating flagged warning ropes or fences on the ground that are marking off certain distances from a power line can add reminders to crew members and crane operators to avoid certain areas that are getting too close to the power line.

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