In February 2018, a 55-year-old truck driver was killed in a property in Kergunyah, south of Wodonga. The truck’s trailer was raised when it hit powerlines and brought them down onto the truck, which caught fire. It is believed the driver tried to escape, got out of the truck and in the process was electrocuted.
Energy Safe Victoria supported WorkSafe’s investigation of the incident.
This tragic accident serves as a reminder to farm workers and heavy machinery operators about the importance of safe working conditions around powerlines and electricity infrastructure. The message is clear to farmers and other workers: Look Up and Live.
In 2019 Energy Safe Victoria has revitalised its long-running ‘Look Up and Live’ campaign with a focus on raising awareness in regional and rural areas.
The campaign theme “Don’t expect a warning” is paired with an overhead safety gantry, familiar to all truck drivers in an outback setting. The image is designed to remind drivers and heavy machinery operators to think about safety as if there was a physical gantry in place to guide operations.
The Look Up and Live awareness campaign has been in place since 2006 when three people were killed in similar but separate incidents involving a tipper hitting powerlines. In 2010 there was a further tragedy when a father and son were killed when a windmill they were moving came into contact with powerlines. The death last year and frequent near-misses demonstrate the need for increased awareness about this issue.
Trucks and powerlines on farms
Farmers are more likely to die at work than any other Victorian worker – about thirty per cent of work place deaths occur on farms. Farmers work long hours and often are highly skilled in operating farm machinery. While it’s tempting to jump in and get the job done, you could be putting your life and the life of others at risk.
- identify all areas where powerlines cross properties
- identify all electrical hazards before starting work – if in any doubt contact the local electricity distribution company
- relocate bulk delivery storage sites to a safe area away from powerlines
- suppliers of bulk materials must ascertain, when taking orders, the delivery point on the farm for the load, the proximity of powerlines and what safety precautions are in place should there be powerlines in the vicinity
- never raise the tray of tipper trucks when underneath powerlines
- drivers should refuse to deliver loads if their safety is compromised in any way
- ensure a spotter is on hand 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
- remember that electricity can jump gaps.
- Use ESV Warning Signage on areas where there is risk on the farm (Farm Sign).
Safety tips when working around powerlines on farms:
No Go Zones
- Observe No Go Zones which prescribe a safe working distance from powerlines.
- Remember, if you are not sure about the location of powerlines, check with your electricity distribution business. A list is on the ESV website.
powerlines on farms
Victorian electricity distributors have very extensive rural networks, totalling 84,000 km of power lines. 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 line, they can be hard to spot. Often there are long distances between poles, bush vegetation and even the time of day can cloud your vision. You might lose track of the grid or think that the powerline is not in the area you’re working in.
Accidents can be prevented if you take the time to look up and check your work area. Don’t forget working in remote areas, it can be difficult for emergency services to access the site and it takes time for help arrive due to the large distances involved in the Australian bush.
Trucks and machinery don’t actually 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 headspace above you.
Wherever you spot powerlines on poles or towers, be aware of the following No go zones:
- Never work within 3 metres of overhead powerlines or poles
- Use a spotter when working between 3 and 6.4 metres of powerlines
- Never work within 8 metres of powerline towers
- Use a spotter when working in-between 8 and 10 metres of powerline towers.
Spotters are licenced workers who ensure safety standards by observing the operation of workers and equipment. The role of a spotter is to minimise risk of electrocution, contact with pipelines, vicinity to power lines and electrical conductors.
Spotters are accredited and can prove they are qualified by producing a spotter card. The course covers techniques and develops skills relating to observing and warning against any risky approaches towards overhead and underground equipment.
While spotters are an additional cost and consideration for major construction works, it’s worth being aware of the role and remembering if you’re a farmer or an operator working on a farm that in some circumstances there might be someone whose sole responsibility is to look up for you.
What do to if something goes wrong
The best thing to do is to avoid the accident by taking the time to survey the site. Identify all electricity infrastructure including poles, towers and powerlines. Remember that the position and height can change with the impacts of weather and construction. Don’t assume because you’ve done it once that things will stay the same. Do it each time you are about to operate at the site.
If equipment comes into contact with powerlines call the relevant power company immediately and do not move from the vehicle until you can confirm that the power has been switched off.
If there is anyone else nearby, they should not approach the vehicle closer than 8-10 metres.
You should stay in the vehicle. If you have to leave the vehicle because of some other life threatening situation developing such as fire, jump clear of the vehicle – don’t not step off – and 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 accident you fall over, don’t stand up. You should roll away to minimise the risk.
Be aware of what is above you
- 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
We are Victoria’s safety regulator for electricity, gas and pipelines.
Our role is to ensure that Victorian gas and electricity industries are safe and meet community expectations. We are also responsible for licensing and registering electricians, and educating the community about energy safety.
More information is available on the Energy Safe Victoria website: http://www.esv.vic.gov.au.. To order Farm Safety signs and stickers, go to https://www.esv.vic.gov.au/ merchandise/.
For more information visit www.esv.vic.gov.au