Power Lines and Construction Sites

Electrocution caused by contact with power lines is a common cause of fatalities in construction. In construction, we work around power lines all the time. It’s rare when we don’t. Most property being developed or rehabilitated, and state and county roads have overhead power lines often running parallel to the roadway. These power lines will frequently cross over the roadway, while underground power lines will often be found parallel to, and crossing under roadways in more recently-developed areas.

An energized power line acts like an electromagnet. The more electricity flowing through a power line, the stronger the electromagnetic effect. The result is an overhead power line that will actually move toward metal objects that come too close. This is one of the reasons that OSHA requires that equipment not come any closer than a defined minimum distance. Some examples of equipment that could contact power lines are: cranes, pile drivers, guardrail drilling rigs, backhoes, excavators, front-end loaders, trenching machines, dump trucks and concrete pumping trucks.

Following are some tips to keep in mind on every construction job:

  • Survey the site for overhead power lines and place warning signs and visible barriers at all potentially dangerous locations.
  • Maintain at least 10 feet of clearance between equipment and power lines energized with less than 50,000 volts. For power lines carrying more energy, increase the distance by one foot for every 30,000 volts.
  • If you must operate equipment close to the power line, use a spotter to warn you when you’re approaching the defined minimum distance limit.
  • Before beginning paving operations, survey the area for any power lines that cross over the roadway, and develop a plan to keep raised dump truck bodies from coming within 10 feet of them.
  • If you must work close to a power line, consider calling the responsible utility to have the line protected during the operation.
  • Before beginning any excavation work, call Indiana Underground Plant Protection Services (Indiana811) at 811 or 800-382-5544 at least two full working days before you begin excavating, and have them locate the underground utilities. Do not begin work until this has been done.
  • Protect all underground utility markers from damage and replace them as needed.
  • If there’s any doubt as to the depth of a power line or underground utility, consider potholing to determine the exact depth and location.
  • Situate jobsite unloading and storage areas in open areas that are away from overhead power lines.
  • Place reminder signs telling dump truck drivers to lower their beds before traveling under overhead power lines and bridges.

An electrocution is a horrible accident to witness. Don’t take chances. Follow these tips, use common sense and don’t take shortcuts.

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