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UpdatesMay 14, 2021

Staying safe around powerlines

8 mins read

The risks posed to workers by electricity are all too real, and in the case of working near powerlines, safety regulators are looking closely at how organisations are managing the risk of electrocution.

Recently, WorkSafe Victoria issued a safety alert around mobile machinery being used near overhead powerlines following a number of electric shock incidents and near misses. In the alert, employers are reminded that “It doesn’t matter whether you are a large employer in construction, transport or a sole farm operator, all duty-holders should review their systems of work when operating near overhead powerlines.”

The issue impacts all businesses across Australia, and not just in relation to the use of mobile machinery. The risks arise when any worker is near any energised power source, including distribution boards or underground cables.

In the case of mobile machinery and powerlines, the safety regulator has reminded employers to take the following steps:

Ignoring the risk of an electric shock when working near powerlines can be costly. In 2017, NSW construction company WGA Pty Ltd was fined a record $1 million after a subcontractor received an electric shock while working near live high-voltage powerlines.

NSW District Court Judge Andrew Scotting found the subcontractor had been exposed to a “risk of death or sudden injury” and the employer’s moral culpability for the offence was high because there had been a “blatant disregard of its safety obligations”.

In that case, the subcontractor was installing apartment windows using scaffolding that was close to powerlines without the installation of non-conductive hoarding and the absence of an exclusion zone marked to prevent a person coming within 3m of the powerlines.

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