Look up and live: Avoiding electrocution

According to OSHA, approximately five workers are electrocuted each week, and electrocution causes 12 percent of work-related deaths of young employees. Electrocution is the third leading cause of death for construction workers.

While contact with underground wires accounts for only 1 percent of electrocutions, overhead power lines are much more dangerous. According to the Center for Construction Research and Safety, contact with overhead power lines is the main cause of electrocution for workers who are not electricians.

Approximately 21 percent of these deaths happen when a worker comes in direct contact with the power line, but the remainder of these accidents happen through indirect contact — when machinery or objects touch wires. Some power lines have enough voltage to create an arc between the wire and the object, causing electrocution without physical contact.

To avoid injury, follow these guidelines:
  • Remember that most overhead power lines are not insulated; visible coverings protect the wire from weather only.
  • Before working, look up and around for electrical hazards.
  • Keep all equipment and tools at least 10 feet away from lines.
  • Be careful on or around roofs where electrical service enters a house or where wires might be close overhead.
  • Do not climb or trim trees that are in contact with wires.
  • Opt for fiberglass ladders that do not conduct electricity, and keep them clean and dry.
  • Never carry ladders upright or extended because they can easily fall against power lines.
Buried power lines need attention too. The law now requires contractors and homeowners to call Diggers Hotline at least three days before doing any digging. Stay at least 18 inches away from marked lines if possible and, if not, carefully dig with hand tools instead of heavy machinery.