Look up and live: machinery around powerlines
By Marnie Williams, Commissioner and Chairperson, Energy Safe Victoria
Friday, 30 July, 2021
Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) — the regulator responsible for electricity, gas and pipelines safety in Victoria — has seen an alarming spike in the number of serious incidents involving machinery hitting powerlines. Following four serious incidents in regional Victoria over three weeks in April and May of this year, the regulator is pleading with machinery operators to take more care and to always, look up and live.
ESV’s ‘Look Up and Live’ campaign has been reminding Victorians to be aware of powerlines for almost a decade. The campaign calls on workers to be aware of powerlines and plan how to safely undertake their work before they begin. While no one cause can be linked to the spate of incidents in April/May 2021 that was the impetus for my call here, a combination of complacency, poor planning, inadequate or no risk assessments, lack of training, distraction, worksite changes and time constraints have all been factors in the past. Fortunately, none of these cases involved a fatality, but similar incidents have done so in the past.
On Monday, 4 May 2021, an excavator sitting on top of a truck made contact with high-voltage powerlines in Pakenham, in Melbourne’s south-east. The truck driver was placing ramps on the truck at the time and consequently received a shock. A workmate quickly carried out CPR to revive the driver, before he was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
On Friday, 30 April 2021, a tipper truck hit a high-voltage powerline at Trafalgar South with the driver taken to hospital in a stable condition.
On Tuesday, 27 April 2021, a man was left in a critical condition after the grain auger he was transporting hit high-voltage powerlines at a property in Harston, south-west of Shepparton. The man received a severe shock and third-degree burns after the grain auger — being towed by a forklift on which he was standing — hit one of the bare overhead powerlines above. The man was airlifted to the Alfred hospital.
On Monday, 12 April 2021, the arm of a crane truck offloading building material hit high-voltage powerlines in Dromana. Two men were injured, and one was left in a serious condition in hospital.
Last November, a 29-year-old farm worker was killed at Gerang Gerung in north-west Victoria, when the extendable boom on the telehandler tractor he was operating struck powerlines. It is also important to note that a number of additional near-miss incidents have recently been recorded where injury was avoided. Each of these incidents could easily have resulted in a fatality. There has been no pattern to the geography of these incidents, which have occurred right across the state, including the Goulburn Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Pakenham.
ESV is calling on everyone involved in moving and working with machinery to take more notice of their surroundings and to remember the impact that a serious incident can have on individuals and the broader community. To have four in the space of three weeks is deeply concerning. Anyone operating machinery such as cranes, crane trucks, tipper trucks or other farm machinery must look up, because incidents like these are preventable if operators of machinery take the proper precautions.
If operating this machinery, you need to be aware of powerlines before starting any work, particularly in rural and regional areas where single bare powerlines are often hard to see. You only need to see the consequences from these four incidents, which have all caused serious injuries and in some other cases people have died. They not only impact the life lost but also their loved ones and co-workers who are left devastated and forever changed.
Taking a couple of extra minutes to be more familiar with your surroundings to ensure improved safety is not unreasonable — and is essential. While ESV is unable to comment on the specifics of the incidents that have led to this plea for greater care in this area — as they are still being investigated alongside WorkSafe Victoria — I have set out some recommendations below for how those operating machinery around powerlines can carry out work more safely, and end with some tailored advice for those operating heavy machinery on farms — an area of particular concern when it comes to machines around powerlines.
Recommendations for staying safe while operating machinery around powerlines
- Always stay at least 6.4 m away from powerlines while doing any work operating or moving machinery.
- Understand ‘No Go Zones’. These include rules and distances for safety clearances near overhead powerlines. People and equipment working anywhere near powerlines need to understand the No Go Zone requirements to stay safe and away from live powerlines.
- If in Victoria, use an ESV registered spotter when operating machinery near overhead powerlines.
- Monitor weather conditions closely — powerlines can sag in extreme heat and sway in strong winds.
- Take caution during different light conditions, as powerlines are more difficult to see at dawn and dusk.
- Remember that you don’t have to make contact with a powerline for it to be fatal. Electricity can jump if equipment or machinery gets too close to powerlines.
- Take care when using tall machinery (cranes or augers), driving high vehicles, raising tipper trucks and irrigation pipes and climbing on top of machinery and storage silos.
Advice for those operating heavy machinery on farms
- 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. Enlist the help of a person to act as a safety observer when operating machinery near overhead powerlines.
- Enlist the help of a person to act as a safety observer to make sure any machinery does not get closer than 6.4 m to powerlines.
- Display Look Up and Live stickers near the controls of any machinery or equipment that can be raised overhead.
- Monitor weather and light conditions closely — powerlines can sag in extreme heat and sway in strong winds, and are more difficult to see at dawn and dusk.
- Remember that electricity can jump gaps.
For more information on the Look Up and Live campaign, including stickers and brochures, visit www.esv.vic.gov.au/lookupandlive.
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