When it comes to any kind of work that goes on around high-voltage overhead power lines, the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Law places safety responsibilities squarely on employers.
MOSH gives special emphasis to safety training, in that educating workers about safe work practices in proximity to power lines is essential.
Many accidents around energized power lines involve cranes, truck-mounted lifting equipment (bucket trucks), digging equipment and ladders. If these machines or objects come in contact with the lines, workers could suffer severe burns and other injuries, or instant electrocution.
Maryland law requires that workers and all their equipment stay a minimum of 10 feet away from overhead lines, with appropriate hazard signs. The minimum clearance for cranes is 20 feet. An operator should position the crane in such a way that the radius of the boom swing is outside of the absolute minimum clearance relative to the power lines.
A very real danger
The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation notes two recent fatalities from contact with power lines:
- A roofing company employee lost control of his fully extended ladder while repositioning it. The metal ladder struck a 72,000-volt overhead line 28 feet behind him, electrocuting the man.
- A construction worker was operating a backhoe beneath several overhead power lines. The operator made contact with the lines — which had not been de-energized or grounded — electrocuting a fellow worker who was holding a chain attached to the backhoe.
Providing proper training
Based on an analysis of accidents around power lines, MOSHA has compiled points with which construction companies should comply. These include:
- Recognizing the threat posed by overhead lines
- Positioning equipment correctly in relation to overhead lines
- Requiring de-energizing or visible grounding of power lines before work around them begins
- Training workers in safety measures before work commences
- Instructing workers not to use metal ladders on or near electrical conductors or equipment
Workers must understand that the power company is solely in charge of de-energizing, insulating, relocating or otherwise handling the power lines. No one else is authorized to do this kind of work.
MOSH emphasizes that the responsibility of those working around the power lines is to not locate any equipment where it can come in contact with overhead power lines. Operating equipment within 10 feet of live power lines is a violation of the Maryland High Voltage Line Act. In fact, it is punishable by jail time and/or fines up to $1,000 for contractors or employees to do so. Never assume that power lines have been de-energized or that is OK to contact live power lines with insulated equipment.
Knowing workers’ rights
Even if someone has received adequate training and is following safety measures, working around high-voltage power lines is still dangerous. It may be reassuring to remember that Maryland workers’ compensation law covers workers injured on job sites.