Working Near Power Lines: The "Safety Six"

Electrical power lines present one of the greatest health risks to outdoor workers. Accidental contact with a power line can cause serious injury and death. The Florida Power & Light (FPL) company has developed what it calls the "Safety Six" -- six vital rules to observe when working around power lines.

Rule 1: Work at a Safe Distance
This is the most important rule. Follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and work a safe distance from all overhead power lines. OSHA requirements for work performed near power lines state that:
• Persons, tools, and equipment must be kept at a safe distance from power lines. The minimum distance is 10 feet.
• Power lines must be de-energized and grounded, or workers need to take other protective measures before starting work.

Employers must make sure:
• Employees know the location of power lines, hazards involved, and protective measures.
• Employees observe the 10-foot minimum distance.
• Warning signs are posted

Rule 2: Stay Calm, Stay Away
Sometimes a piece of heavy equipment, such as a crane, comes into contact with a power line. If that happens to you, follow the appropriate steps:
• If you're not in danger from an electrical fire, or you won't be struck by a power line, move the equipment away from the power line
• Warn others not to touch the equipment
• Immediately contact the local power company

However, if you are in danger and need to get off the heavy equipment, jump as far away as you can and land with both feet together. Never touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Once you hit the ground, hop or shuffle away with your feet together. Don't go back to the equipment until it's safe.

If a coworker contacts a power line, stay away. Rescue attempts are noble, but you could be killed or seriously injured if you touch someone has become part of an electrical current. Warn others and immediately call police and fire rescue. If you feel you absolutely must try and rescue someone, never use your hands or any conductive material.

Rule 3: Ladders and Power Lines Don't Mix
Aluminum ladders conduct electricity. You risk serious injury or death if you touch a ladder that contacts a live power line. Even non-metallic fiberglass ladders can conduct electricity if they are dirty or wet. Before raising or extending any kind of ladder, check in all directions for any power lines.

Rule 4: Call Before You Dig
Before you begin excavation work, advise the local power company 48 hours in advance. They will send someone out to the site and make sure no underground equipment is positioned where you want to dig. Calling is not only prudent, it's an OSHA requirement.

Rule 5: Look up and Live
When working near power lines, always look up and check where they're located. If you work near trees, keep in mind that branches may hide power lines. When performing nursery operations, look up before moving a tree under a power line. Determine the maximum height that the machinery can lift the tree.

Rule 6: Downed Lines May be Deadly
If you see a downed line, stay away. It may be energized. Call the local power company.

-- Dan Harvey

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