Construction professionals may find themselves working around downed power lines for a number of reasons, so it’s vital that contractors are familiar with the ideal protocols for preventing electrical hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes that electricity is one of the top workplace hazards with the potential to severely or fatally injure workers. Downed power lines can lead to electric shock, electrocution, fires, and even explosions. In this two-part article, an OSHA defense attorney will explain everything you and your workers should know about performing construction-related tasks around downed power lines.
Always Make Safety Your #1 Concern
Whenever you enter a project site, it’s important to inspect for any signs of electrical hazards, especially downed power lines. Advise your workers to approach all electrical equipment, lines, and conductors with the expectation that they are fully energized and dangerous. Additionally, your workforce should be instructed to touch base with the relevant utility personnel if they identify downed wires or other types of damaged electrical equipment. There’s no guaranteeing that a circuit has been switched off just because a power line has fallen down, since reloaders are designed to automatically reset and reactivate circuits when the flow of power is interrupted. If a downed electric line isn’t sparking or humming, that doesn’t mean it’s not active. By simply touching a downed power line or even the adjacent ground, a worker could be electrocuted.
Be Wary of the Way Energy Flows
When a damaged power line falls to the ground, the energy produced from the line can spread to nearby conductive objects like fences, water pipes, bushes, trees, buildings, and telecommunication cables. This presents a significant hazard to workers on project sites that contain downed power lines. It’s even been reported that manhole castings and reinforcement bars in pavement have become energized. This hazard is especially prevalent in the aftermath of a severe storm. Thunderstorms and hurricanes often catalyze the destruction of power lines, so whenever you’re contracted for post-disaster relief projects, it’s vital that your team is armed with the knowledge to maintain their safety. The strong winds associated with these storms can lead to canopies, aluminum roofs, siding, and even sheds being energized.
In part two of this two-part series, we will continue to discuss what all construction professionals should know about working around downed power lines in order to avoid a citation from OSHA.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.