By Matt Fray, Senior Account Manager
If you’re performing temporary work at height, using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) is safe, versatile, and reliable. That being said, as ever, your safety is entirely dependent on the way you handle the machine – and making sure you take care to check your facts and get the right IPAF training before you power up.
The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) reported that electrocution causes nine fatalities per year for those working at height.
So working near overhead power lines should be treated with the upmost care and attention, regardless of your industry. In fact, the main risk is not to qualified electrical line workers – who receive compulsory and detailed training – but to those whose construction, signage, decorating, glazing, or outdoor work only occasionally crosses path with a pylon.
Keeping a safe distance from high voltage power lines is key, but only one of a series of five steps you need to take to play it safe and work safely at height.
- Plan ahead
Put a plan in place before you power up. Risk assessments, site plans, and workplace inspections are vital for the safety of your team.
It can be easy to confuse electrical cables with television, telephone, street light, and traffic signals that share pylons. So a thorough workplace inspection should identify all risks.
High visibility barriers and signs should then be used to highlight dangers – though make sure that they’re made from a material that won’t conduct electricity, such as timber or plastic.
- Call the network
The electricity distribution network operation (DNO) or the National Grid are your first port of call to determine any additional precautions needed when working near overhead power lines.
Most importantly, they’ll be able to tell you the line height, or arrange for it to be checked before you start work.
- Take precautions
The most effective protection when working near overhead power lines is to have cables de-energised and tagged. This reduces the danger of live-electrical charge, allowing you to work closer.
Alternatively, you can look for insulated aerial devices (IAD) to safeguard your workers. Designed for work near electrical hazards, insulated MEWPs have in-built shielding around the access platform.
Lastly, overhead cable proximity indicators on platforms can also warn the operator when they’re close to high voltage power lines. This way workers can have more visibility and control to work safely at height.
- Keep a safe distance
The higher the voltage, the more humid the conditions, then the further electricity can jump. That’s why you always need to have a minimum approach distance (MAD) – and clearly define it with markers in the ground. Make sure to also check whether your worksite has any requirements of its own.
Our IPAF training programmes recommend that your MAD is:
15m (50ft) + fully extended boom from an electrical pylon
9m (30ft) + fully extended boom from cables on wooden poles
A boom lift extends beyond the base of the machine, so simply measuring from the power lines horizontally won’t give you a reliable safety zone.
That’s why you need the maximum height and reach of your machines when fully extended. If there’s any risk that it will cross the safe distance from high voltage power lines – even vertically – then seek advice on a more appropriate powered access tool.
- Prepare for the worst
Even if you put a plan in place to work safely at height, accidents can happen. So ensuring there is always extra supervision on site and a well-communicated emergency plan could save lives.
Working near overhead power lines is never a risk-free job. So always take precautions and get up to speed on industry advice so your team work safely at height.