Managing the risks of overhead powerlines

WorkSafe is issuing a safety alert about managing the risks of overhead powerlines. Over the past 2.5 years, there have been two fatalities involving overhead powerlines on farming properties.
Safety alert published

Thursday 26 Nov 2020

Industries and topics
  • Agriculture
  • Plant hazards
  • Electrical

Safety issues

Operating large vehicles and other mobile plant near overhead powerlines poses many serious workplace health and safety risks, including electrocution, electric shock and burns. Farm equipment is getting bigger, but powerlines are not getting higher.

Electricity can jump if equipment or machinery gets too close to powerlines and fatal injury can be sustained, even without direct contact with a powerline.

Recommended ways to control risks

Employers must ensure that employees (including independent contractors) working near overhead powerlines are provided with information, instruction and training about:

  • the location of powerlines on the property. Remember that sometimes powerlines are hard to see, for example when the sun is bright or trees or hills are located in the line of vision
  • 'look up and live' procedures
  • storing, loading and unloading at a safe distance from powerlines
  • what to do if they make contact with a power line, or if their vehicle receives an arc from a power line

When working on farm

Employers should:

  • Make sure that items are stored, loaded and unloaded a safe distance from overhead powerlines of any height, unless there is a physical barrier such as a shed or fence to prevent vehicles coming into contact with powerlines. For example, it is not safe to store hay, wooden posts, or old metal equipment near powerlines.
  • Talk to your team at the start of the day to find out whether any work close to power lines is planned. If it is planned:
    • discuss the dangers
    • remind employees where the powerlines are located
    • remind employees not to use machinery with reach near powerlines, such as telehandlers, front end loaders, cherry pickers, and tip trucks
    • remind employees to ensure that their line of travel is always away from the direction of powerlines
  • Make sure that entrance gates have clear signage, indicating that there are overhead powerlines located on the property. Two signs are available free of charge from Energy Safe Victoria.
  • If your designated delivery zone is near the entrance to your property, ensure that any nearby paddocks with overhead powerlines within them are padlocked, with clear signage, to avoid delivery drivers accessing them independently.
  • Request the power supply company put tags onto your electricity lines to make them more visible.

When receiving deliveries

  • Make sure that designated delivery zone/s are set up, in a safe location, away from powerlines and clearly marked. Some examples include:
    • marking a designated delivery area that is well away from powerlines with the distance clearly marked
    • placing a physical barrier (eg fence or shed) between the delivery site and powerlines.
  • Provide clear instructions to the delivery driver about where safe delivery zones and powerlines are located. This should be done when placing an order and when receiving a delivery.
  • Only ever request deliveries to be unloaded into a designated safe delivery zone.

Delivery driver companies

  • Request information about overhead powerlines and other potential hazards before accepting any work on farms and always communicate these hazards to your drivers.
  • Implement a delivery checklist that includes a requirement for drivers to get out of their vehicle to ask about and look for overhead powerlines prior to unloading. Emphasise that overhead powerlines may be very difficult to see, so they need to look carefully. The checklist should also recognise that there is a difference between stationary and mobile unloading.
  • Ensure that drivers are aware of the dimensions of the delivery vehicle, including the tipper height when fully extended. Many semi-trailer tippers have a height in excess of nine metres.
  • Consider fitting electrical proximity detectors to your vehicles.

Delivery drivers

  • Before you enter the property, ask if there are overhead powerlines on the property and where they are located.
  • Get out of the vehicle and assess the delivery site prior to making a delivery every time - look for overhead powerlines (sometimes they are difficult to see) and poles which may indicate the presence of powerlines.
  • When delivering in open areas like farms, do not commence delivery near overhead powerlines of any height. If this is not possible, ensure the direction of travel when unloading is away from the powerlines.

Remember, you don't have to make contact with a powerline for it to be fatal. Electricity can jump if equipment or machinery gets too close.

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must:

  • so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors
  • provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
  • ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct

Duty holders also have specific duties under electricity safety law when working near overhead electrical assets, including maintaining a safe working distance from overhead powerlines.

Employers and self-employed persons have additional duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 associated with the use of plant, including:

  • identifying any hazards associated with the use of plant at the workplace, and
  • controlling risks in accordance with the plant hierarchy of control