Working safely around electricity

Agricultural workers are fifty percent more likely to contact high voltage overhead powerlines in the course of their work than any other industry according to Ergon Energy.

The statistics are high and while keeping safe when working around electricity continues to be of great concern to us at Ergon, it should also be a concern for all farmers and workers in agriculture and associated industries.
Working in close proximity to powerlines, above or below the ground, has its hazards. Every year, workers die or suffer serious injuries, mostly because of poor safe work practices around electricity.
Not only could contact with powerlines cause injury or death but costs to repair the damage can be expensive.

Electrical fatalities increasing on farms

Over recent years, community electrical safety incidents in the agricultural sector have increased. In 2016 there were 83 incidents and three of the four fatalities in Queensland due to accidental contact with powerlines were in the agricultural sector.
Incidents involving tractors and cane harvesters are two of the highest risk sectors, however irrigation activities and spray rigs continue to be areas of concern.
Drought has been a factor in these irrigation incidents and they are a stark reminder that keeping electrical safety front of mind, including the “Look up and Live” message, can be a life saver.

Look Up and Live

There is never room for complacency when working near powerlines and we understand the devastating consequences that contact with overhead powerlines can have – not only on the people involved, but on their loved ones too.
So we urge you to please, take care when operating machinery around overhead powerlines, and always remember to look up and live. Most contacts occur because there has been no safety observer assigned to the activity or no avoidance strategy put in place when working near powerlines. This simple action of assigning a safety observer or marking out “no go” zones would stop 99% of these accidental contacts.
All machinery operators and other workers working near powerlines should be aware of their safety obligations under the:

  • Electricity Entity Requirements: Working Near Overhead and Underground Electric Lines for anyone who may be contemplating working or operating plant near any Electricity Entity overhead or underground electric lines. This publication can be found at; and
  • Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 and adopt safe work practices in accordance with the Electrical safety code of practice 2010 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines. Copies of these publications can be obtained from the Queensland Government electrical safety website

Farm safety and safe work habits

Please take the time to read this valuable information about some of the potential dangers of powerlines for operators of machinery including excavators, tractors, crop sprayers, harvesters, irrigators or ladders.

Before you start work

  • Talk to the person in control of the property about any work areas which may be hazardous.
  • Know the location of overhead and underground powerlines, poles and stays, and their proximity to your work.
  • Be aware of electrical safety legislation on powerlines. Obtain a code of practice and ensure workers are familiar with the relevant sections.
  • Complete a hazard assessment for each work site including paddocks, sidings, and the piece of machinery to be used.
  • Install visual markers where electrical hazards are identified prior to commencing work.
  • Monitor weather conditions as powerlines can sway in winds, sag in heat and are difficult to see at dawn and dusk.
  • Be aware of reduced powerline heights resulting from damage often indicated by uneven powerlines, excessive sag, or slack stays.
  • Ensure operators know machinery heights in stowed and working positions.
  • Monitor machinery to ensure required powerline exclusion zone clearances are maintained.
  • Ensure farm workers know the emergency procedures and contacts.
  • Ensure aerial applicators are aware of all powerlines on the property.
  • Stay well clear of damaged powerlines and report them immediately on 13 22 96.

Exclusion zone distances

Workers and their equipment should not approach overhead powerlines any closer than depicted in the diagram below. Although these are the minimum exclusion zone clearances required, you can reduce the likelihood of mistakes by operating machinery well clear of powerlines. Always assign a safety observer to ensure you do not come within an unsafe distance of powerlines.

Want more information?

Our community health and safety team are committed – as Ergon always has been – to a future where farm-related electrical incidents are a thing of the past. We believe working in collaboration with the farm sector we can properly understand all the risks and put the right safety measures, work practices and attitudes in place.
If you’d like to know more about working safely around powerlines, call our team on 1300 736 349.
Article kindly supplied by Ergon Energy.