Powerline incidents prompt safety warning

WorkSafe is urging employers operating mobile machinery near overhead powerlines to put safety first following a spate of electric shock incidents and near misses.
News article published

Thursday 06 May 2021

Industries and topics
  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Transport, logistics and warehousing

Since November 2020, one worker has died and five others were taken to hospital with serious injuries after their machinery contacted powerlines.

A 54-year-old construction worker was taken to hospital in a critical condition on Monday following an electric shock when the arm of the excavator on his truck struck powerlines at Pakenham.

Two construction workers were injured, one critically, when a crane arm struck live 22kV lines at Dromana on 12 April.

There were also two incidents last month involving the farming and transport industries. On 30 April a tipper truck driver was taken to hospital in a serious condition after his truck hit a high voltage conductor at Narracan, near Moe.

A 72-year farmer was also airlifted to hospital on 27 April after the auger he was moving with a forklift touched powerlines, resulting in serious injuries at Harston near Shepparton.

On 12 November a farm hand died while using a telehandler to move hay bales when a raised attachment hit powerlines.

There was also a serious incident on 12 March, when the Princes Highway was shut at Panmure due to powerlines being pulled down onto the road by a dump truck.

Investigations into six of the seven incidents are ongoing.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said no matter the situation, care had to be taken when using machinery near electrical wires.

“Electrocution can occur in just moments and if an electric shock doesn’t kill, injuries can be severe and life-long,” Ms Nielsen said,

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a large employer in construction, transport or a sole farm operator, all duty holders should review their systems of work when operating near overhead powerlines.”

“Make sure you assess the environment you are operating machinery in and keep clear of live electrical cables, because WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute duty holders that fail to protect workers.”

In September, 2020, a quarry at Maude was convicted and fined $35,000 after a worker luckily escaped injury when his excavator contacted powerlines.

WorkSafe inspectors found there were no protective barriers or warning devices to prevent the incident occurring.

To avoid contact with powerlines employers and contractors using trucks and other mobile plant should:

  • Identify all powerlines on site and at site entrance or exit points
  • Comply with the No-Go-Zone rules and spotter requirements when operating mobile plant around powerlines
  • Monitor weather conditions closely – powerlines can sag in extreme heat and sway in strong winds
  • Be aware that powerlines are more difficult to see at dawn and dusk
  • Designate travel paths, loading and unloading areas well away from powerlines
  • Install warning signs or other visual indicators on each side of the powerline to warn operators and drivers
  • Consider the type and height of heavy vehicles, plant and machinery and if it can safely operate near the powerlines
  • Induct drivers and operators in the risks of powerlines on site, and the controls in place to prevent hitting the powerlines.
  • If routinely working near power lines consider engineering controls such as presence sensing systems that can detect power lines and interlock plant movements.
  • Consult with workers on safe systems of work for operating near powerlines.