In an article titled Alarming Statistics: Reducing Common Injuries and Maintaining Safety Practices that appeared in the May 2007 issue of Electrical Contractor, author Darlene Bremer noted that exposure to electricity remains a major cause of death among construction workers. So much so that it accounts for an average of 143 construction worker deaths each year.
Many workers are oblivious to the potential electrical hazards in their work environment, which makes them extremely vulnerable to the danger of electrocution. Sometimes it is a matter of not being familiar with the environment, and not knowing the location of all the energized power sources from overhead and underground power lines.
However, this isn’t always the case. Many instances of electrocution result from workers failing to follow proper safety procedures when working around power lines. The most common cause of electrocutions is when workers using cranes, metal ladders, scaffolds, conveyors, front-end loaders, dump trucks, or other equipment or materials come into contact with an overhead power line. It is not uncommon for workers to die while performing what appears to be an activity that isn’t normally associated with accidents, such as unloading supplies from a truck, or moving ladders from the side of a structure. The problem arises because of poor planning or temporary inattention to surroundings, which causes contact with high voltage.
OSHA has established the following guidelines to help keep you safe when you have to work near power lines:
- Keep a distance of 10 feet or more between you, your equipment and any power lines.
- Survey the site for overhead power lines before you begin working.
- Keep a minimum distance of 10 feet plus 1/2 inch for each 1,000 volts over 50,000 volts between power lines and any part of a crane if the energized power lines are 50,000 volts or more.
- Request an observer to assist you where it is difficult to maintain the desired clearance by visible means.
- Be sure that the observer’s only job is to help you maintain the safe clearance.
- Treat overhead power lines as if they were energized whenever you are working near them.
- Call the electric company to find out what voltage is on the lines if you are not sure.
- Ask the electric company to either de-energize and ground the lines or install insulation while you are working near them.
- Make sure ladders and tools are nonconductive.