Look Up And Live

Coming into contact with powerlines is always dangerous and sometimes deadly. One of the most tragic incidents of this type we have seen in Victoria in recent years involved a 55-year-old truck driver who, in 2018, was killed on a property at Kergunyah, south of Wodonga. As the truck’s trailer was raised it hit powerlines and brought them down onto the truck, which then caught fire. It is believed the driver tried to escape the fire but was tragically, electrocuted as he tried to leave the truck.

This shocking accident continues to serve as a reminder to farm workers and heavy machinery operators about the importance of working safely around powerlines and electricity infrastructure. The clear message to farmers and other workers on the land: Look up and Live.

Energy Safe Victoria’s long-running Look up and Live campaign focuses on raising awareness of the potential danger of powerlines in regional and rural areas.

The campaign was launched in 2006 after three people were killed in similar but separate incidents where tipper trucks hit powerlines. Four years later tragedy struck again when a father and son were killed when a windmill they were moving made contact with powerlines. These incidents along with the death of the truck driver in 2018 and frequent near misses demonstrate the need for increased awareness about powerline safety.

Electricity Jumps

Trucks and machinery don’t have to touch the powerlines for injury or electrocution to occur. Electricity can jump gaps. This is why there are established No Go Zones around powerlines.

Even if you have scouted out powerlines and other safety risks, you need to make a final check before operating in the space above you.
Wherever you spot powerlines on poles or towers, be aware of these No Go Zone guidelines:

  • Never work within 3 metres of overhead powerlines on poles.
  • Use a spotter or safety observer when working between 3 and 6.4 metres of powerlines on poles.
  • Never work within 8 metres of powerlines on towers.
  • Use a spotter or safety observer when working in-between 8 and 10 metres of powerlines on towers.

A Rise in Incidents

During 2023 there were 451 incidents where machinery connected to powerlines. The majority of these (156) involved backhoes and excavators. The overall figure is a significant rise on previous years with 339 incidents reported in 2022 and 314 in 2021. In January 2023, a worker was seriously injured while chasing a possum to the top of a high voltage pole at Combienbar in East Gippsland. The person received a serious shock and burns having made contact with high voltage conductors during the chase.

During April and May 2021 there was a cluster of incidents involving contact with powerlines with five cases being reported to Energy Safe over a four-week period.

The first incident left two men injured with one taken to hospital in a serious condition. The pair was hurt when a crane offloading building materials connected with overhead 22kV powerlines in Dromana.

The following week, a man was airlifted to the Alfred Hospital in critical condition after the equipment he was transporting hit powerlines at a property in Harston, south-west of Shepparton. The man had been standing on a forklift that was towing a grain auger, He received a severe electric shock when the auger hit overhead powerlines.

In the same week, a tipper truck hit a high voltage conductor at Trafalgar South with the driver taken to hospital in a stable condition.
Just a few days later, another truck driver was critically injured when an excavator, sitting on the truck, made conduct with high voltage wires in Pakenham. The driver had been placing ramps on the truck at the time and suffered an electric shock.

The final incident recorded in 2023 occurred when a trailer sitting on the back of a tipper truck made contact with high voltage overhead conductors in Mangalore, south of Shepparton. The incident resulted in two tyres on the truck exploding injuring the driver.

These incidents highlight the dangers powerlines can pose, especially when damaged. They also indicate a lack of awareness or a level of complacency among truck drivers and heavy machinery drivers in relation to safety risks.

Trucks and Powerlines on Farms

Farmers are more likely to die at work than any other worker in Victoria – about 30 per cent of workplace deaths occur on farms. Farmers work long hours and often are highly skilled in operating machinery. However, it may sometimes be tempting to jump in and get the job done quickly. A lack of proper planning can put your life and the life of others at risk.

Safety tips when working around powerlines on farms:

  • Identify all areas where powerlines cross properties.
  • Identify all electrical hazards before starting work – if in doubt contact the local electricity distribution company.
  • Relocate bulk delivery storage sites to a safe area away from powerlines.
  • When taking orders, suppliers of bulk materials must ascertain; the delivery point on the farm for the load, the proximity of powerlines and what safety precautions are in place if powerlines are in the vicinity.
  • When underneath powerlines, never raise the tray of tipper trucks.
  • Drivers should refuse to deliver loads if they feel that their safety is compromised in any way
  • Where possible use a spotter or safety observer when working near overhead powerlines.
  • Display look up and live stickers on any machinery or equipment that is raised overhead.
  • Monitor weather conditions closely – remember powerlines can sag in extreme heat and sway in strong winds.
  • Powerlines are more difficult to see at dawn and dusk, particularly single-wire high-voltage lines.
  • Remember that electricity can jump gaps.
  • Display an Energy Safe warning sign (farm sign) on areas where there is risk on the farm.

Powerlines on Farms

Victorian electricity distributors have extensive rural networks, totalling 84,000 kms of powerlines. Much of the rural network is made up of SWER powerlines.

SWER is a single-wire high-voltage line which supplies single-phase electric power from an electrical grid, with all equipment grounded to earth and with the earth used as the return path for the load currents.

Because SWER powerlines have only one bare line, they can be hard to spot, particularly on hot sunny days. Often there are long distances between poles, vegetation and even the time of day can affect visibility. You might lose track of the grid or think the powerline is not in the area where you’re working.

Accidents can be prevented if you take the time to look up and check your work area. Working in remote rural areas can be difficult for emergency services to access. Should something go wrong, it could take extra time for help arrive due to the long distances.


Spotters are registered workers who ensure safe clearances are maintained by observing the operation of workers and equipment. The role of a spotter is to warn operators if they’re getting too close to powerlines and other buried energy assets. They minimise the risk of electrocution and damage to energy assets both above and under the ground.

Spotters are registered by Energy Safe Victoria and will have an Energy Safe spotter card.

The spotters’ course is designed to develop the techniques and skills needed to observe and warn workers against unsafe approaches towards overhead and underground energy assets.

While spotters and or safety observers are an additional cost and consideration, it is worth remembering a spotter’s sole responsibility is looking out for the safety of their co-workers. The cost of a spotter is far less than an accident that costs a life.

If Something Does Go Wrong

The best approach to avoiding accidents is to take time to survey the site and carefully plan your work. Identify all electricity infrastructure including poles, towers and powerlines. Remember that the position and height can change due to the weather. Don’t assume because you’ve done the job once that things will stay the same. Survey the site each time you are about to operate there.

If equipment comes into contact with powerlines call the relevant power company immediately. If powerlines fall across your vehicle, stay inside if it is safe to do so, until the power has been switched off. If you do attempt to leave the vehicle before the power is off, the outcome could be fatal.

If you have to leave the vehicle because of some other life-threatening situation such as fire, jump clear of the vehicle – do not step off – keep both feet together. Hop or shuffle away. Contact with the ground and the vehicle at the same time could kill you.

If when exiting the vehicle, you fall over, don’t stand up. You should roll away to minimise the risk.

If anyone else is nearby, they need to stay at least 8-10 metres away from your vehicle and any other fallen powerlines.

Be Aware of What is Above You

Take extra care to watch for powerlines if your work involves:

  • Using tall machinery, such as cranes or augers
  • Driving high vehicles
  • Raising the tipper tray of trucks
  • Raising equipment such as irrigation pipes overhead
  • Climbing on top of machinery or storage silos.

About Us

At Energy Safe Victoria we do everything in our power to keep Victoria energy safe.

We engage with the community to raise awareness of energy safety risks and regulate industry and the energy sector to ensure generation, supply and usage, to uphold safety standards.

In everything we do, we strive to deliver on our purpose to keep Victoria energy safe. Always.

Further information

More information is available on the Energy Safe Victoria Website: www.esv.vic.gov.au

To order farm safety signs and stickers, go to: www.esv.vic.gov.au/merchandise

Article kindly provided by Energy safe Victoria