A survey by B.C. Hydro last year found that a surprising number of people don’t know the basic safety rules about doing yard work around power lines. What you don’t know can kill you.
Every year, homeowners or contractors who are working on basic home maintenance chores ñ trimming trees, cleaning out gutters or washing windows ñ come in contact with power lines, sometimes with fatal results.
In Ontario, 19 people have died during the last decade due to power line contact. The province had 1,248 contacts reported during the last 10 years. B.C. Hydro reports that almost 400 incidents with power line contact were reported from 2013 to 2018, causing power outages or line damage, and many more went unreported. Most of these contacts were by “weekend loggers” doing yard work.
The scary thing is, you don’t even have to touch a power line to feel its impact.
“Electricity can jump and activate areas up to 10 metres away from the source,” says Joel Moody, chief public safety officer for the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA). He says although simple work and yard tasks may seem danger-free, you should always look up and look out for overhead wires before beginning a project.
A B.C. Hydro survey last year found that many people have dangerous misconceptions when it comes to power lines. More than three in 10 people surveyed thought that tools or ladders had to touch a power line to be dangerous and were unaware that the power can arc to people or objects ñ such as a pruning tool or ladder ñ that come too close.
Eight per cent of those surveyed said if the tool they are using touches an overhead line, the tool will absorb the shock and keep them save. Eighteen per cent don’t believe trees can conduct electricity. Thirty per cent said the wearing rubber-soled shoes or gloves will protect them from electric shock. In fact, the ESA says even safety boots rated for electrical work don’t necessarily provide 100 per cent protection from shock. Normal wear and tear and even a lot of dirt can compromise their ability to protect you, says ESA.
Some examples of what can happen when you work too close to power lines:
– A B.C. contractor installing new eavestroughs was electrocuted when his metal ladder came in contact with the line.
– An Alberta farmer was killed when a grain auger hit an overhead power line.
– An Alberta homeowner was attempting to move an overhead cable that was rubbing on his garage. He received a shock from the wire.
– An Alberta forklift operator struck a power line. He stepped out of the forklift to the ground and incurred burns on both feet.
Back in Ontario, the ESA says power line contact while working accounted for 33 per cent of all occupational electrical fatalities between 2008 and 2017. One of the most common incidences is when dump trucks with raised boxes contact an overhead power line.
Here are some essential power line tips from Canadian electrical authorities:
– Look up, look out and locate power lines before doing landscaping, cleaning eavestroughs or washing windows. Stay at least three metres away from power lines. Have someone watch you work so they can give a warning if you or your tools are getting too close.
– If you encounter downed power lines, stay back 10 metres (33 feet, or the length of a school bus). If a power line falls on your car, stay inside the vehicle until the utility workers tell you it’s safe to get out.
– Don’t hang things over power lines or use them to brace anything. Don’t use a power line for balance when working on a ladder or roof.
– When carrying ladders or other long equipment, carry them horizontally, not vertically.
– Don’t plant trees under power lines. If you have existing trees growing around power lines, do not trim them yourself. Call your utility or a professional arborist to do the job.
– Remember that not all power lines are overhead ñ if you are installing a deck, fence or other landscaping project, call your utility before you dig to determine where the underground infrastructure is located.
– If there is a green transformer box on your property, keep plants, trees and fencing at least three metres away in the front and 1.5 metres on the other sides.
– Make sure you and your children respect power lines. Don’t fly kites or drones near them, and if something becomes tangled in a power line, never try to remove it yourself. Don’t climb trees that are near power lines and stay away from transformer boxes.
The ESA says that “even a low-voltage shock like a zap from a toaster or a buzz from an outlet can have serious long-term effects like memory loss, anxiety or the feeling of pins and needles”.
B.C. Hydro says prolonged exposure to a 120-volt household current, “something that can happen when muscles in hands and arms ëfreeze’ or continue to hold on as a reflex to shock, can lead to respiratory paralysis to the point where breathing stops.”
If you have any questions about power line safety, check with your local or provincial electrical authority.