Power lines are such a part of the landscape that they often seem “invisible.” But when down, power lines can be deadly; you can’t tell by looking if a wire is live or not. Electricity always seeks the easiest and shortest path to the ground – you could be electrocuted just by coming too close to a wire.
Electricity will jump or arc from power lines to any object that touches the ground and can conduct electricity. Almost any object has the potential to conduct electricity if the conditions are right. If the object is wet, the chance of arcing increases.
Remember, too, that not all power lines are overhead. Make sure you are aware of underground utilities as well. Call 811 before you dig.
Electrocution occurs when a path to the ground is created for the current. If your body touches a power source or even from the ripple effect of a downed wire, the electricity will attempt to travel through your body and can be fatal.
Keep a distance of at least 10 feet away from any overhead or downed wires. An increase in the popularity of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, has led to some incidents with power lines. If you come across downed lines from a storm or accident, or are in a vehicle with downed lines, follow these guidelines:
- Stay in your vehicle. The ground may be electrified.
- Call 911 and/or the power company. If you do not have a phone, stay with the vehicle. The power company will be out to check on the power disruption.
- Do not try to pull the equipment away from the power lines or poles. This will cause more damage to the line.
Fire, Emergency Exit After Hitting a Power Line
If a fire starts after hitting the power line, you must quickly -- but safely – escape the vehicle or equipment. Do not allow any part of your body to touch equipment and ground at the same time.
- Stay seated and open the door completely, looking around to make sure no wires are exposed.
- Stand in the door frame with feet together and arms crossed.
- As carefully as you can, jump from the vehicle as far as possible, keeping arms crossed and feet together. Never touch the ground and vehicle at the same time; electricity can flow through you from the vehicle to the ground.
- Keep feet together. Separating your feet allows electricity to flow from one foot through your body to the other foot, causing serious injury or even death.
- Hop at least 33 feet (approximately 33 hops) from the site of the accident, then slowly slide your feet apart. If you feel tingling, continue to hop farther away until you are safe. If you cannot hop, shuffle your feet slowly, keeping both feet on the ground at all times. Voltage diminishes the farther out it is from the source.
- Call 911 and/or the power company.
Once away from the vehicle or equipment, never attempt to get back on or touch it. Electrocutions have occurred when the operator dismounts, and realizing nothing has happened, tries to get back on the equipment.
If lines are down, do not touch anything the downed line is touching, especially anything metal. However, if conditions are right, nonmetal objects, such as soil, branches, even straw, could be energized.
Because of the conduction capability from the vehicle to the ground, anyone in the area is at risk of electrocution if they approach the site of the accident. This is called "step potential." Do not run toward the vehicle after witnessing an accident with power lines; instead call 911 and/or the power company for help.
If someone comes in contact with an energized wire or power line do not touch the victim until it is absolutely certain the current has been turned off. Otherwise the would-be rescuer could become a victim of the circuit. First unplug the device or cut power at the service panel. When the power has been shut off, call for emergency assistance. Administer CPR if the person isn’t breathing. Loosen clothing, keep the person horizontal and warm. Any burns should be treated only by a medical professional.
Power Line Awareness
- Always be aware of overhead power lines on your property and that of others. Select a route for equipment that avoids potential contact.
- Never touch a power line.
- Contact the power company if an incident occurs.
- Never use ladders around power lines.
- Some equipment may have a higher profile during transport.
- Maintain at least a clearance of 10 feet between power lines and equipment.
- Review safety measures with all individuals working with you on your property, even part-time and seasonal.
Source - Overhead power-line safety. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice.