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Powerline Contacts - Know Your Limits

Overhead powerlines or conductors have been a part of the Ontario skyline for more than a century now. They carry thousands of volts of electricity to our homes and businesses and at first glance look harmless. That is a dangerous assumption. Coming into contact with, or even in proximity to, live electrical plant can be fatal.

The Electrical Safety Authority’s annual ESA Ontario Electrical Safety Report 2018 reported that between 2009 and 2018 there were a total of 54 electrical related occupational fatalities of which 27 were from contact with utility equipment and 19 from contact with powerlines. (Page 41, 42 of ESA 2018 report).

Some of the most hazardous activities that caused these incidents included overhead contacts:

  • during the loading and unloading of dump trucks
  • cement trucks and garbage trucks
  • roofing and other exterior building work
  • cranes, boom trucks
  • tree trimming.
 

In recent years, several Ontario utilities have hosted seminars and meetings with contractors, boom truck drivers, and other high risk goups that may come in proximity to overhead powerlines, in order to share their knowledge of electrical safety.

 

What Can a Contact do to You?

An electric shock can do damage to the body in a number of ways:

  • Electrical current causes painful involuntary muscle movement that can cause a person to dislocate joints, fall from platforms or ladders, or be thrown distances into objects.
  • Electrocution occurs when a person’s body suffers overwhelming physiological damage from a lethal amount of electrical energy.
  • Muscle contractions may be so severe that you are unable to pull free of the energized circuit. Burns and blisters (resulting from heat generated by the current flow) will develop very quickly.
  • Vital body organs such as your brain, heart, and lungs may also sustain damage, the extent of which is determined by the amount of current flowing and the duration of the contact.
  • Electrical arcs release incredible amounts of energy almost instantly. They can cause thermal burns to the body strictly from the intense ultraviolet light they radiate, even without making any electrical contact.
 

What are the Limits of Approach?

The safe limits of approach (safe distance from energized powerlines) are outlined in the Regulation 213/91 Construction Projects, Regulation 851 Industrial Establishments, Electrical Safety Rules to be 3 metres from 750 volts to 150,000 volts, 4.5 metres from 150,001 volts to 250,000 volts, and 6 metres from more than 250,000 volts. Specific training and procedures are required for workers who work on or near energized powerlines.

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