Look up and live—power line safety

Contacting an overhead power line could cost you your life.

Overhead power lines are not insulated. So if you touch one with your body, your equipment or your tools, you or someone you work with could die. Everyone who works near power lines is at risk, whether you operate heavy equipment or use ladders and handheld tools. It’s up to you to work safely to protect yourself, your crew and the public.

Look out for power lines:

  • Search carefully for overhead power lines, poles and guy wires. Conditions can easily change, so check the site frequently.
  • Look for lines that may be blocked from view by trees or buildings. If you suspect hidden power lines, talk to the utility company, inspectors and experienced colleagues about your concerns.
  • To learn the location of underground utilities, notify the Pennsylvania One Call System by dialing 811 or using the Web Ticket Entry tool (pa1call.org) at least three business days prior to digging.

Alert others about lines at your pre-job briefing.
Make sure everyone at the job site knows about nearby overhead and underground utilities and where they are located. Whether they are operating heavy equipment, using handheld tools or climbing ladders, all workers on-site must be aware of power lines.

Assume all lines are energized and potentially dangerous.
This includes overhead and underground lines, and the service drops that run from utility poles to buildings.

Before any work begins, make time to examine the work site carefully for overhead utilities.


Construction workers examining site

Shocking fact:
Almost 200 construction workers die each year in the United States from contact with electrical energy, the fifth-leading cause of workplace death. Direct or indirect contact with power lines is the most common cause of electrocution, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

When working with ladders or long tools:

Stay at least 20 feet away from overhead power lines carrying up to 50 kV.

When cranes and derricks are used in construction:

Keep the crane boom and load at least 20 feet away from lines up to 350 kV and 50 feet away from lines greater than 350 kV but at or less than 1000 kV. Always assume the line is energized, and allow nothing closer unless you have confirmed with Utility Name that the line has been de-energized. If voltage is unknown, contact Utility Name before work begins.

As voltage increases, clearance distances also increase.

Contact Utility Name to verify line voltage if needed, and consult the OSHA regulations at www.osha.gov for specific clearance requirements.

Clearly mark boundaries.
Use tape, signs or barricades to keep workers and equipment the required distance away.

If you are in doubt about line voltages, clearance requirements or how to work safely near power lines, contact Utility Name.

Crane near powerlines

Worker marking boundary

Shocking fact:
You can use tape, signs or barricades to maintain the required distance from power lines. Make the barriers portable enough so they can be easily changed to keep up with changes in the job.

For equipment operators, visibility is limited.

When you operate hoisting equipment, it is often hard to judge the distance from your equipment to power lines overhead. Certain weather conditions and bright or dim lighting can make it even harder to see.

A spotter helps you stay clear of overhead lines.

Someone on the ground has a much better view of the power lines near you. You should work with a dedicated spotter on the ground whose only job is to watch your equipment and make sure you stay a safe distance from overhead lines and other hazards.

Crane and derrick operators: 
Maintain continuous contact with a dedicated spotter to comply with electric line clearance requirements. Make sure your spotter is not doing double duty by spotting and guiding a load at the same time.

A dedicated spotter on the ground should be stationed to watch that your equipment stays away from power lines.

Shocking fact:
Construction workers in Manhattan don’t have to worry about contacting overhead power lines. A court order decades ago required that all power lines must be underground for safety reasons. Since then many other large downtown areas have followed suit.

When you guide a load, you are at risk of electric shock.
If the crane or other piece of equipment you are guiding hits an overhead power line, electricity can travel down the tag line that you are holding and through you. In the event of power line contact, workers on the ground are in the greatest danger of shock.

Don’t try to guide a load and spot at the same time.
Assign a spotter whose only job is to make sure the equipment stays clear of power lines. Spotting effectively requires a person’s full attention.

When you guide a load, have a spotter who can alert you if equipment gets too close to power lines. Your life could depend on it.

Worker guiding load

Shocking fact:
A worker was electrocuted while pulling a wire rope attached to a crane cable. The cab of the crane was positioned about 11 feet from a 7,200-volt power line. The crane operator swung the crane boom and cable toward the victim, and the momentum of the swinging crane apparently caused the crane cable to contact the power line.

Keep vehicles clear of lines.

Long-bed dump trucks, concrete pumping rigs and other high-rise equipment can contact overhead power lines. Make sure you know the required safe work distances and encroachment prevention precautions for all power lines at your job site, and respect all marked safety boundaries. Work with a dedicated spotter to comply with line clearance requirements.

Take care with ladders and long handheld tools.
Carry ladders, paint rollers, rain gutters and other long objects so they are parallel to the ground. When it’s time to use them, raise and lower them carefully to avoid power lines.

Adjust ladders and tools cautiously. 
Before adjusting extension ladders, paint rollers or other long tools, add your own height and make sure the total height will remain a safe distance of at least 20 feet away from overhead lines of 50,000 volts or less. As voltage increases, clearance distances also increase. Consult your local utility and the OSHA regulations at www.osha.gov for specific safety clearance requirements.

Carry long equipment parallel to the ground, and adjust tools carefully to maintain the required safety clearance from power lines.

Crane near power line

Shocking fact:
When climbing a single or extension ladder, you should never stand above the third rung from the top of the ladder or above the point where the ladder touches the wall or ledge.

Steer clear of power lines:

  • Identify power lines in the area and familiarize yourself with their location.
  • Store wheeled irrigation equipment at least 100 feet from power lines and keep irrigation pipe at least 10 to 20 feet from power lines that carry up to 50 kV. (Higher voltages require greater distances.)
  • When installing aboveground irrigation systems, keep pipes horizontal so you don’t lift them into lines by mistake.

Adjust spray to avoid shock hazards.
Sprinkler streams from an irrigation system should break into droplets as opposed to flowing in a single unbroken stream. An unbroken stream of water that contacts a power line can conduct electricity and cause a dangerous shock.

Keep irrigation pipe at least 20 feet from power lines that carry up to 50 kV. Higher voltages require greater distances.

Irrigation system

Shocking fact:
Many farms have no power lines running over their fields, but certainly have them present in equipment and grain storage areas. When transporting irrigation equipment, be sure the paths between the storage areas and the fields are safe routes.

Stay far away from downed lines:

  • Even if they don’t hum, spark or “dance,” downed lines can be dangerous.
  • If you see one, carefully move away from the line and anything it is touching. Instruct others in the area to do the same.
  • Call 911 and Utility Name at 000-000-0000 to report the line.
  • Downed lines are most common after storms and high winds. If you are outside after a storm, be alert for lines that may be obscured by streams or standing water.

Don’t run from a downed line.
The correct technique for moving away from a downed power line is to shuffle away with small movements, keeping your feet close together and on the ground at all times. Fight the urge to run, and warn others not to run. This is because when a live wire touches the ground, electricity travels through the ground in all directions. Voltage decreases as it travels from the center where the live wire is touching the ground. If you run or take large steps, you increase the chance that electricity could come up one leg and go out the other, and you could be shocked.

If a line is downed near you, shuffle away with small movements so you don’t get shocked. Warn others to do the same.

Shocking fact:
It is a myth that rubber tires provide insulating protection from a downed power line when you are inside a vehicle. Most tires actually contain steel sidewalls and belts. So it is the metal around the car and in the tires that conducts the electricity from the power line into the ground and keeps you safe—if you stay inside the car.

Stay away.
Stay clear of any person or any object that is in contact with a power line. Call 911 and Utility Name at 000-000-0000. Don’t try to rescue the victim. Stay away until rescue workers assure you the power has been turned off.

Protect yourself.
If you touch someone who is in contact with electricity, you could be shocked too. You can also be shocked if you touch the equipment or vehicle that person is in, or the tool they are holding. Again, the best thing to do is to stay far away and call for help.

Immediately call 911 and Utility Name if someone accidentally contacts a power line. Don’t try to help the victim until you’re sure the power is off.

Power line contact victim

Shocking fact:
It’s human nature to want to help someone who is being hurt. But when a power line is involved, you can’t help without endangering yourself. Do not try to use nonconductive ropes or tools to push an electrical contact victim clear of a power line—power line voltages can be strong enough to travel through nonconductive objects.

If there is no immediate danger, take these steps:

  • Remain on the equipment.
  • Tell others to stay away.
  • Have someone call 911 and Utility Name. immediately.

If fire or other imminent danger forces you off:

  • Do not touch the equipment and the ground at the same time.
  • Jump clear and land with your feet together.
  • Shuffle away with small movements, keeping your feet close together and on the ground at all times.

If your equipment touches a power line, remain on the equipment, tell others to stay away and have someone call 911 and Utility Name immediately.

Equipment hitting power line

Shocking fact:
Even after you’ve jumped from equipment with a power line on it, the danger may not be over. Electricity can spread out through the ground in all directions from any downed line. The voltage drops as you move away from the point of contact. However, if you touch a high-voltage and a low-voltage zone at the same time (which can happen if you take big steps or run), electricity can travel up one leg and down the other, and you can be shocked. This is why you should shuffle away from the line, keeping your feet close together and on the ground.

Power lines