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Powerline Safety Week: Deadly contacts are closer than workers think

Angela Gismondi
Powerline Safety Week: Deadly contacts are closer than workers think

Powerlines are unforgiving, deadly and pose a serious threat, says Patrick Falzon, powerline safety/code specialist at the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).​

Powerline Safety Week, which is being held May 13 to 19, is an opportunity to educate construction and trade workers in Ontario and make them aware of the risks posed by powerlines.

The goal is to share information about safe practices to help prevent incidents and save lives. In order for construction and trade workers to stay safe, they need to stay clear.

“Powerline safety awareness is not where we’d like it to be,” said Falzon in an email to the Daily Commercial News. “While there is no official theme, during Powerline Safety Week, we want to remind the construction industry that deadly powerline contacts are closer than they think. A single distraction could be fatal.”

In Ontario, there have been nearly 1,400 overhead powerline contacts in the last 10 years, of which 60 per cent were reported from the construction sector.

“Ultimately, eight workers didn’t survive and make it home to their loved ones,” said Falzon. “This is far too many. Powerline Safety Week is an important reminder about the precautions we must take to stay safe around powerlines.”

Construction has been the leading sector in overhead powerline contacts in the past 10 years.

“A recent survey by the Electrical Safety Authority raised some red flags,” Falzon noted. “For instance, only 18 per cent of construction workers can correctly identify the safe distance from overhead powerlines (three metres), and just 26 per cent can identify the safe distance from downed powerlines (10 metres).”

Additionally, 70 per cent of construction workers mistakenly believe it’s safe to touch a powerline with an orange cover-up, which is a deadly misconception, he pointed out.

They are only used for identification purposes and provide no worker protection. You must always stay three metres back from an overhead powerline, even with an orange coverup, Falzon added.

“Despite these low awareness levels, 45 per cent of workers report not receiving regular training on powerline safety on the job,” he said.

The haulage industry, aerial lifts and excavators are the biggest contributors, with powerline contacts peaking from March through October.

Last year, a 20-year-old arborist lost his life after coming into contact with a powerline while on the job.

“The tragedy prompted an investigation and criminal charges were brought against the company owner,” Falzon stated.

“We need people to know that these heartbreaking accidents can and must be avoided.”

The ESA offers some simple steps to reduce the risk of powerline contact on construction sites:

Locate all powerlines onsite before starting any work.

Use a competent designated signaller to make sure no high reaching vehicles or equipment come within three metres of overhead powerlines. Electricity can jump or “arc” to you or your tools if you get too close. You don’t have to touch a powerline to get a deadly shock.

Falzon encouraged everyone to take part in Powerline Safety Week.

“By participating in Powerline Safety Week, you could save a life,” he said.

To learn about the steps visit ESASafe.com/construction.

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela

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