As farming machinery gets larger, the risk of contact with overhead powerlines becomes greater. Over the past two years, incidents of large machinery making contact with powerlines have increased.
If contact is made with an overhead power line or a line that has fallen due to a collision with a power pole, the risk of physical injury from electric shock, or death by electrocution, is extremely high.
Power lines are often hard to see, and electricity can arc from a live wire to the metal of a machine that is close to a high voltage wire.
Recommended ways to control risks
Employers should ensure that:
- loading areas for grain, cattle, silage and hay are located in areas where there are no overhead powerlines
- employees and contractors do not work near overhead powerlines with large machinery such as telehandlers, grain augers, front end loaders, tip trucks and elevated work platforms
- warning signs are located in places where overhead powerlines can pose a risk to operating machinery
- if work is carried out in paddocks using powered mobile plant with a Global Positioning System (GPS), any power poles are entered into the navigation system
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), 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
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
Employees must take reasonable care for their own health and safety at work, and the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at a workplace. They must also cooperate with any actions taken by their employer to comply with the OHS Act or Regulations.
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.