General utility workers have a risky job. Each year, many of them suffer serious injuries or death when working on overhead power lines. The two leading causes are falls and electric shocks.
Falls from aerial lifts can occur for many reasons. These can include high winds, worker error, tipovers, and failure to wear proper safety gear. Electric shock can occur when lifts or cranes make contact with power lines. Proper training is the biggest factor in preventing these accidents. But there are many other ways to keep utility line workers safe on the job.
General Utility Worker Safety Tips
Safety on utility line worker jobs starts with keeping a safe distance from live power lines. A tall crane with a mobile extension can easily make contact with a power line. This is true even if the lift is set up a safe distance away from the line. That’s why crane workers should always assume nearby power lines are live.
The smallest safe distance between a boom and a power line depends on the number of kilovolts (kV) in the line. OSHA safety guidelines for working near power lines are as follows (kV = 1,000 volts):
Number of Volts in Power Line Minimum Safe Distance
0 to 50 kV 10’
50 kV to 200 kV 15’
200 kV to 350 kV 20’
350 kV to 500 kV 25’
500 kV to 750 kV 35’
If the voltage isn’t known, keep 35 feet away. Use ground workers to monitor the crane’s distance from the line throughout the job. Warning devices that sound when the boom gets too close can also help.
Utility line workers who work on scaffolds share the same risks as crane workers. Yet, the safe distances between the scaffold and power line are much shorter. OSHA minimum clearance guidelines are:
- 2 feet for insulated lines under 300 volts
- 10 feet for insulated lines of 300+ volts
- 10 feet for uninsulated lines of any voltage
The job site should have a trained observer to warn if workers get too close to a power line. This person must have the authority to take action if a hazard is spotted.
Working on a scaffold isn’t the only risk to general utility workers. Tools and work materials that make contact with power lines can also cause injury or death. When possible, replace metal tools with those that don’t conduct an electric current.
Ladders may seem outdated for working at height. But they are still a common sight at today’s job sites. Metal ladders that make contact with a live power line can cause injury or death. OSHA guidelines for working with ladders near power lines include:
- Ladders that conduct electricity may not be used
- Place warnings on conductive ladders not to use around electric equipment
- Only use tools that will withstand their voltage ratings
- Keep ladders at least 10 feet from lines of 50,000 volts or less
- Keep ladders at least 35 feet from lines with higher voltage
- Always carry ladders horizontally, never upright
Most companies use aerial lifts to work on overhead power lines. This can include boom lifts, scissor lifts, and bucket trucks. When using lifts near live power lines, OSHA mandates the following:
- Workers must be trained and certified
- Workers must adhere to the lift’s rating and design specs at all times
- All lift controls must be tested before starting a job
- Lifts must maintain the same safe distances as cranes
If the lift could make contact with a “hot” line, workers must:
- Insulate the parts of the lines that could make contact with the lift
- Insulate the lift as much as possible
- Set up the lift so uninsulated parts can’t get closer than the minimum safety distance
- Make sure all lift parts are grounded
- Make sure all equipment pieces are bonded together
- Use ground mats around the lift to extend the grounded area
- Workers should wear insulated gloves, helmets and clothing
Utility Line Worker Jobs: Preventing Falls
Workers don’t have to fall very far to suffer a serious injury. That’s why OSHA requires strict fall protection guidelines when working four feet above ground.
Some aerial lifts have guardrails or safety nets. If not, workers must wear fall arrest gear while in the air. The most common is a body harness with a lanyard. The lanyard must be connected to an anchor point on the bucket or boom.
Employers can comply with OSHA’s fall protection mandates in two other ways. One is having workers wear a body belt with a tether. The other is wearing a body harness with a tether. In both cases, the tether must be anchored to the boom or basket. All fall protection gear must be inspected each day before it is used.
For further reading on utility line workers and aerial lifts, check out our blog post How Aerial Lifts are Used by Utility Workers.
Keep Your Workers Safe with ALC Training
Whether it’s protecting against falls or electric shock, nothing beats training from aerialliftcertification.com. Our online courses are approved by OSHA. They’re fast, and affordable. Workers can take them anywhere they have Internet access. And they can print their certifications cards as soon as they complete the course. Sign up online or give us a call at (888) 278-8896.