Outdoor work is common in a variety of industries and many of these tasks involve working around power lines. Overhead power lines aren't insulated and carry enough energy to cause serious injury or death. In fact, contact with overhead power lines is a leading cause of electrical-related fatalities. Before beginning work in any area, it's important to become familiar with the location of all power lines and take steps to ensure the safety of your staff.
Safety guidelines for working around power lines
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and many states require minimum distances when working near power lines. OSHA regulations call for a distance of at least 10 feet from all power lines, while some state regulations require distances of up to 25 feet.
Contact your state job safety program for information about any state-specific requirements, and follow these safety guidelines when working near power lines:
- Check for power lines before doing any work
- Call 911 immediately if you see a downed power line
- Maintain a distance of at least 10 feet
- Call the utility company before digging
- Keep all equipment away from power lines
- Familiarize yourself with local and state laws
Ladders and scaffolding
Aluminum ladders conduct electricity and even non-metallic fiberglass ladders can conduct electricity if they're dirty or wet. When working with a ladder, keep it at least 10 feet away from power lines. When carrying a ladder, keep it level to avoid hitting a power line.
Construction workers using scaffolding must follow National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) guidelines for minimum clearances between scaffolding and power lines—three feet for power lines of less than 300 volts, and 10 feet for those with 300 volts or more.
A worker should be appointed to ensure the clearance is being maintained. If minimum clearance can't be maintained, NIOSH recommends contacting your utility company to de-energize the power lines or provide adequate insulation before beginning any work.
Underground power lines
Underground power lines pose the same hazards as overhead lines. Most states require you to call the utility company at least 48 working hours in advance of any excavating, boring, pile driving, blasting or hand digging, so that underground utility lines can be located and marked.
Once marked, use appropriate equipment to maintain the required clearance from the power lines. Place barricades and warning devices around excavations with exposed cables or pipes. Don't try to repair damaged cables or lines.
General safety recommendations
Follow these tips to stay safe:
- Avoid downed power lines
- Refrain from attaching anything to energized power lines or electrical equipment
- Never climb power poles or other electrical equipment
- Don't attempt to remove objects tangled in power lines
- Never touch someone who has come into contact with a power line
- Avoid working in stormy, icy or rainy weather
See the OSHA fact sheet Working Safely with Electricity for more information.