Safety alert issued over overhead powerlines on farms

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Monday, 6 June, 2022 - 12:45
Policy & legislation

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert about overhead powerlines on farms due to several incidents that have occurred across Victoria and South Australia.

As farming machinery gets larger, the risk of contact with overhead powerlines becomes greater, and over the past two years, incidents of large machinery making contact with powerlines have increased.

If contact is made with an overhead power line or a line that has fallen due to a collision with a power pole, the alert said the risk of physical injury from electric shock, or death by electrocution, is extremely high.

Power lines are often hard to see, and electricity can arc from a live wire to the metal of a machine that is close to a high voltage wire.

The alert recommended a number of ways to control risks, and employers should ensure that:

  • loading areas for grain, cattle, silage and hay are located in areas where there are no overhead powerlines

  • employees and contractors do not work near overhead powerlines with large machinery such as telehandlers, grain augers, front-end loaders, tip trucks and elevated work platforms
  • warning signs are located in places where overhead powerlines can pose a risk to operating machinery
  • if work is carried out in paddocks using powered mobile plant with a Global Positioning System (GPS), any power poles are entered into the navigation system

Employers and self-employed persons have additional duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 associated with the use of plant, including identifying any hazards associated with the use of plant at the workplace and controlling risks in accordance with the plant hierarchy of control.

Duty holders also have specific duties under electricity safety law when working near overhead electrical assets, including maintaining a safe working distance from overhead powerlines.