From October 1st 2015 until the date of this post, 16 workers were fatally injured because they came in contact with power lines. That comes down to potentially losing one colleague, once every three weeks. In most cases their body did not make contact directly, but their tools or equipment touched an energized power line.
To prevent such accidents from happening, OSHA has composed a set of requirements regarding the erecting, moving or working from metal conductive scaffolds in the vicinity of overhead power lines. OSHA standard 1926.451(f)(6) states the following:
“The clearance between scaffolds and power lines shall be as follows: Scaffolds shall not be erected, used, dismantled, altered, or moved such that they or any conductive material handled on them might come closer to exposed and energized power lines than as follows.”
The tables that follow give an overview of the required clearance. Depending on the voltage and whether it involves insulated or uninsulated power lines.
When looking at OSHA statistics, we see that 9 out of 16 fatalities are due to the materials being handled on the scaffold, came in contact with an energized power line. When trimming trees, it may be necessary to work closer to the power lines than is specified in the standard. In such cases the utility company should be contacted and the power lines should be either de-energized or moved. Installing protective coverings is also an option.
Assess your workplace
Before starting work, you should always be aware of your surroundings. Especially when working in the vicinity of overhead power lines, this risk assessment could save lives. Remember, most overhead power lines are not insulated!
This risk assessment should not only be done on day one, but daily. Most importantly, when it involves equipment that is relocated constantly like mobile scaffold towers and suspended scaffolds. When moving a scaffold, always make sure a competent person is present to observe the required clearance between the scaffold and the power lines is maintained. This way, the other employee(s) can focus on safely moving the scaffold to its desired location.
To help alert employees about the dangers of working near overhead power lines, we have designed an infographic. In one clear overview, you’ll be able to see what the OSHA standard states, and what clearance should be maintained for different types and voltages of power lines. Download the printable, high resolution infographic with the button below: