This paper addresses the use of safety management techniques to effectively identify and control electrical hazards relating to non-utility work performed near overhead power lines. Incidents involving power lines can be reduced when hazards and risks are effectively identified and appropriate controls are developed and utilized. Specific areas addressed in this paper include the following:

  • Identifying overhead and underground electrical hazards associated with non-utility work.

  • Assessing the degree of risk associated with electric shock and arc flash for the identified hazards.

  • Developing and utilizing a hierarchy of controls to eliminate and or minimize the hazards.

  • Using error prevention tools to optimize worker behaviors and reduce errors during high risk work.

  • Monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the controls and error prevention tools.

Overhead lines are not "telephone wires" as is often stated. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injury (CFOI) data shows that contact with an overhead power line is fatal in 70% of reported cases, a percentage much higher than other types of occupational fatalities. A detailed National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study of the CFOI data from 1992-1998 showed that there were 2,287 electrical fatalities during the study period and that 50% were related to contact with overhead power lines. Cases involving mobile equipment contacting overhead power lines constituted 17% of total cases. Cranes (5% of total cases) were the single largest mobile equipment category followed by boom trucks (4%), dump-bed trucks (2%), drill rigs (2%), concrete pumper trucks (1%), material handling augers (1%), and all other mobile equipment (2%). In contrast, underground, buried power lines were involved in 9 (0.4%) of total fatal cases.

Current OSHA regulations require employers to take precautions when cranes and other boomed equipment are operated near overhead power lines. This paper addresses the electrical hazards associated with this work. Also addressed are the electrical hazards associated with rigging and moving loads by ground personnel.

Any overhead power line must be considered energized until the owner of the lines or the electric utility company confirms the lines have been de-energized with a visible opening, applied personal protective grounds and tags, and has confirmed that no possible sources of induced voltage are present in the work area.

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