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The power of understanding overhead danger

April 20, 2017

Too many truck drivers are injured or killed when accidentally contacting live overhead electricity wires.

Energy companies, like Essential Energy, provide information and warnings to drivers of at-risk equipment advising that the first thing they should be aware of when working near overhead powerlines – which is practically everywhere – is to know the height of their vehicles… including the vehicle’s exhaust height.

And obviously, the height of the fully-raised bin of a tipper truck.
Essential Energy has a list of at-risk machinery that includes:

  • farm equipment, including tractors and harvesters;
  • dozers;
  • excavators and backhoes;
  • mobile cranes; and
  • other portable plant.

As a participant of a supply chain in an industry that may be working around overhead powerlines, especially industries like construction and produce (farms are high-risk environments) it is essential that you know the height of the vehicles involved. But are you aware of the height of the powerlines? It’s almost pointless knowing one without the other.

This information can be obtained from the relevant power authority and should be passed on to those working on site.

Energy companies warn that operators should not try to measure the height of low-hanging power lines as this puts the worker in obvious danger should they come into contact with the wires.

 Safe clearances

To stay safe, Essential Energy warns that machinery taller than 4.6 metres is at high-risk of contacting overhead powerlines and should be closely monitored to ensure safe clearances are maintained (see below).

Knowing the voltage of the wires involved is also a safety matter because safe distances vary depending on the voltage levels.

For instance, workers and their equipment should not approach overhead powerlines any closer than the following:

  • powerlines with voltages up to 132,000 volts (low voltage and high voltage distribution and subtransmission lines, usually on poles) = 3 metres;
  • between 132,000 and 330,000 volts (subtransmission and transmission lines on either poles or towers) = 6 metres;
  • more than 330,000 volts (transmission lines usually on towers) = 8 metres.
    * These are minimum distances.

To stay safe, it is recommended that:

  • workers are provided with accurate, up-to-date maps/diagrams showing the location of powerlines;
  • safe travel paths have been identified and passed to operators;
  • operators know the height of their vehicles and the powerlines;
  • competent safety observers are in place;
  • equipment/machinery is lowered when being transported or moved.

Remember that workers can still be injured even without directly contacting powerlines as electricity can arc across open spaces.

Also, the height of powerlines can vary depending on the terrain below them.

Worker safety

As Chain of Responsibility (CoR) obligations move to align more closely with health and safety laws, it is vital that you understand your role in worker safety.

The new section 26C of the Heavy Vehicle National Law reads: Each party in the CoR has a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of the party’s transport activities relating to the vehicles.

Even at present, it’s no longer just the driver’s responsibility to ensure that accidents involving heavy vehicles don’t happen.

To help understand all of your CoR obligations under the current and changing laws, subscribe to the CoR Adviser monthly newsletter. Written in plain, concise English by transport lawyers at Holding Redlich, CoR Adviser has all the CoR-related information you need – most of which won’t appear in the mainstream media.

Subscribe today to ensure you don’t miss out on these valuable insights as maximum penalties for breaches of CoR laws have increased up to $300,000 for individuals.