SafeWork SA recently warned builders and contractors in the residential construction sector to maintain safe clearance distances when working near overhead powerlines after multiple electric shocks and near misses that could have resulted in serious injuries or even death by electrocution.
SafeWork SA has received numerous notifications in recent months including electric shocks to two apprentices in October.
On 28 October, a first-year apprentice was carrying a purlin along the working deck of a scaffold and made contact with the powerline causing an electric shock.
Initial enquiries indicate the modular scaffold breached the safe clearance distance to an 11kV powerline by approximately 1.6 metres at the time of the incident.
Earlier in the month, a second-year apprentice lifted a metal purlin above his head, touching a low-voltage powerline which resulted in an electric shock.
A further three incidents involved plant striking an overhead powerline. While no serious injuries were sustained in any of the recent incidents, they all had the potential to cause major trauma or death.
SafeWork SA and the Office of the Technical Regulator (OTR) reminded builders and contractors in the residential construction sector to ensure workers and plant do not encroach on safe clearance distances.
Working near overhead powerlines can be fatal, according to SafeWork SA, which said touching them or straying into safe clearance distances can result in a serious electric shock, and simply being close to the line conductors may allow a ‘flashover’ or arc to take place. The risk of flashover increases as the line voltage increases.
Before carrying out work, a worksite inspection should be conducted to identify potential hazards including the presence of energised overhead powerlines or associated electrical equipment that may pose a risk.
The most effective way to eliminate any risk of electric shock is by turning off the power. The PCBU, principal contractor or the operating plant owner should discuss options for de-energising or re-routing the electricity supply with South Australian Power Networks (SAPN). De-energising or re-routing powerlines should be arranged with SAPN as quickly as possible as this can take some time to arrange. This includes complying with any SAPN requirements under relevant electrical safety legislation.
If eliminating the risk is not reasonably practicable, you must consider using substitution, isolation or engineering controls, or a combination of these control measures, to minimise the risk. This may include: