Overhead Power Lines in Construction

According to the law--specifically the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989--any work carried out near overhead power lines must be carefully planned to avoid contact and disruption to the electricity supply.

Precautions will depend on the nature of the site, but because electricity is dangerous and because overhead lines can supply vital power to entire towns, even very short-term work of minimal risk should still be analysed.

It is stated in the law that it is the duty of the employer or those who are self-employed to comply with the regulations and ensure they are followed in any work they are in control of. Construction employees also have a duty to co-operate with their employer and ensure they are able to carry out their responsibility of encouraging compliance.

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure work is carefully planned in order to prevent accidents due to contact or working in close proximity of overhead power lines. To do this, construction firms must assess whether there are any dangers within the site, near its boundaries or along the site's access roads.

If it turns out that there are, the owners must be consulted and they can then help to establish a plan of action to ensure the safety of anyone involved in the project. Often this can mean diverting lines or killing the electricity supply that runs through them.

One of the most important things for construction companies to remember is that people do not have to come into direct contact with the power lines to receive an electric shock and they can be seriously injured or killed from a voltage as low as 230V.

Furthermore, an electrical current can flow through plastic or wood if it is wet or even damp, which highlights why proper safety procedures and adequate storage facilities must always be followed on a building site. Contractors could also use tool hire services to get specially insulated equipment as an extra precaution to reduce risks even further.

Planning & Preparation

You first need to assess whether there are power lines in or around the work area, and if so, find out as much as possible from the local electricity supplier. Always assume power lines are live from the off, unless proved otherwise by the suppliers.

Lines can often be made dead or diverted by the electricity company, but you need to leave sufficient time for this to occur, which may delay your project.

Remember that as well as lines carrying power to homes and businesses, an overhead electricity line can also refer to a railway or tramway power line.

If possible, try to avoid work being carried out which will cause disruption. If neither avoidance, isolation or diversion are possible, particularly with long-term or permanent worksites, do the below:

Control Access

Access to the site shouldn't be unlimited or unmonitored for security reasons, but it is particularly vital when there are electricity lines. Careful planning has to be in place when it comes to vehicles, constructions and other tall items being moved under wires, so the site must be clear for this to happen.

Define passageways, and clear the area.

Be Aware of Exclusions

Anything too tall to be taken under the wires needs to be taken around the site. Know the maximum height of any plant machinery and materials--this should be a really safe guide, leaving plenty of space as opposed to only just missing the wires. Put plans in place for anything which is too tall or cannot be taken through the defined passageways.

As a general rule, you should not get within 6 metres of a power line, but your power line supplier will be able to give you more specific guidance.

Put Supervisions In Place

Plant and materials access, as well as work being carried out, should be under the direct supervision of a suitable person appointed to ensure that safety precautions are observed.

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