Canadian Contractor

By Electrical Safety Authority   

The Lethal Danger of Powerlines on Job Sites

Canadian Contractor
Sponsored by Electrical Safety Authority

Powerlines continue to present a real and lethal threat to contractors and construction workers on the job in Ontario. According to the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), 70 per cent of powerline fatalities occur on construction sites. These types of accidental deaths can be avoided, but require everyone on a job site to follow proper safety practices.

The number one safety tip to remember? Always maintain a distance of three metres from overhead powerlines for personnel and equipment, and make sure to routinely look up and look out for hidden overhead powerlines.

“There have been instances where building permits are issued and the building clearances do not meet the safe distances from the powerlines in the Ontario Building Code and the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, leading to a powerline safety hazard when workers are forced to work in an unsafe area,” said Patrick Falzon, ESA’s powerline safety specialist, who warns that workers may not even be aware that their job site is violating building codes.

“Workers are often forced to work within limits of approach – even at times having to work within one metre of a high voltage wire – and if there’s just a single gust of wind, that wire will hit them and there will be a fatality.”

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To keep workers safe, Patrick recommends 6 safety tips:

1. Assess the site conditions daily and ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. Remember to stay three metres from overhead powerlines.

2. If a job site has been identified as unsafe, communicate with the electrical utility directly about what can be done to increase safety.

  • Ask if the line affecting the job site can be disconnected. If the powerline supplies only the building itself then it likely can be; if the line is a high voltage powerline and supplying a subdivision, then the utility company may not be able to shut it down.
  • In the case of having to work with a powerline that cannot be shut down, there needs to be a discussion with the utility about whether the line can be relocated. Relocation can be expensive, but will save lives.

3. Have daily tailboard meetings to make sure everyone on the job site reviews hazards at the beginning of each day. This serves as a daily reminder of both best practices for safety, and the location of the hazards themselves.

4. Post signs around the area reminding workers to look up for overhead powerlines. These can be ordered through ESA’s website.

5. Additional personnel, such as a signaller, can make a massive difference on job sites operating large equipment such as a crane or boom. Having a competent, designated signaller can mean detecting unapparent powerlines or spotting unsafe practices before it’s too late.

6. The use of protection barriers known as ‘orange cover ups’ on powerlines can be misinterpreted as a false sense of security by construction workers as safe to touch or go near. Always maintain a distance of three metres.

False sense of security on the job site is a continuous danger to workers. Whether it comes from a mentality of ‘so far, so good,’ or from the misconceptions of the orange cover ups, workers should always be operating with a safety-first mindset.

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