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Working with Power Lines: An Overview

F Marie Athey OHST

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F Marie Athey OHST | October 1, 2013 | Comments Off on Working with Power Lines: An Overview

Working with Power Lines: An Overview

According to OSHA statistics, electricity is the second leading cause of death in construction, accounting for 600 deaths and 12 percent of construction death toll annually. Non-fatal incidences average at 30,000 each year. Construction workers come in contact with electricity many times throughout the day working with power tools, overhead and underground lines, and heavy equipment in close proximity to power lines, temporary lighting and other electrical power sources.

Spotting the hazards associated with electricity and working safely should be a priority among workers and their employers. Through OSHA electrical safety training, workers will know how to properly identify the hazards associated with electricity and equipment, and understand the techniques to avoid shocks, burns, falls, and electrocutions.

Examples of Electrical Accidents

Most electrical accidents occur due to:

–          Cutting cables

–          Machine failure

–          Failure to keep a safe distance of 10 feet from the electrical source (or more depending on environment and voltage)

–          Failure to observe lockout/tagout procedures (LOTO)

–          Uninsulated/unguarded live parts

–          Lack of training

–          Failure to use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)

–          Substituting wires, electrical systems and devices

–           Not using protective devices

–          Cords with missing ground prongs

Common Misconceptions about Power Lines

OSHA, in cooperation with Wayne University, has come up with the following safety myths and tips for Masonry professionals. These facts are very eye-opening.

It must be safe to touch power lines because birds perched on them don’t get electrocuted.

The exit route of electricity is ground level. Birds do not get electrocuted because they are a couple of feet above the ground.

It’s safe to touch power lines because they are insulated.

Insulations are materials used to cover electrical wires to keep it from coming into contact with potential conductors that would complete a circuit. Power lines are not insulated all the time.

Power lines at work are weather-protected. This means they are safe to touch.

Weather protection does not equate to insulation. When lines are weather-protected, this only means that water and moisture cannot penetrate the wires.

I won’t get electrocuted because I use nonmetallic ladders around power lines.

Wood, which some job built ladders and scaffold are made of can conduct electricity when wet.  

Being around power lines is okay because I’m not touching them.

Electricity can jump and reach you if you’ve become part of the circuit or touching a conductor.

Electrical Hazards

Electrical hazards come in many forms, although the most common of which are shocks. Found below are some of the hazards that result from short circuits and mishandled electrical sources:

  1. Shocks – Occur when electrical current courses through the body. Non-severe shocks cause muscle spasms and secondary injuries, but severe shocks can lead to death.
  2. Fires- Occur when too much heat is generated by the electrical source and conductor, resulting to the ignition of flammable materials.
  3. Explosions – Occurs when electrical sparks ignite flammable vapors in the work environment.
  4. Arc Flash- Can cause severe and lethal burns on victims.
  5. Arc Blast- Can cause copper and air to expand causing a pressure wave.

How to Protect Yourself from Electrical Hazards

Use safe work practices and avoid electrical accidents using safe work practices. Safe work practices will depend on your operations and industry. A few examples of safe practices would include following:

  • De-energizing electric equipment before inspection or repair,
  • Keeping electric tools properly maintained,
  • Exercising caution when working near energized lines, and
  • Using appropriate protective equipment.

Construction applications, electrical safety-related work practice requirements are detailed in Subpart K of 29 CFR Part 1926.416 to 1926.417.

Applicable Standards (For Your Reference)

Different standards pertain to electrical safety in construction. For more information please review the following links to the OSHA standards.

29 CFR 1926, Subpart K – Electrical Standards for Construction

1926.416 – General Requirements: Electrical

1926.955 – Overhead Lines

1926.956 – Underground Lines

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