Hazard alert – Risks of electric shock
Official title: The risks of electric shock and electrocution when working near the overhead electrical power grid in the Telecommunications sector
On this page
- Elimination and control of hazards
- Legislative and regulatory requirements
- Additional resources
- Contact us
In recent years, the Labour Program has investigated several accidents where employees in the telecommunication industry have either:
- died due to electrocution, or
- suffered serious injuries
The most frequent cause of these incidents has been employees inadvertently contacting power lines.
Work near the overhead electrical power grid is unavoidable in this industry. Tasks include setting up, maintaining, or repairing telecommunications networks.
The telecommunication lines often share the same poles as the electrical grid. The electric grid remains energized during telecommunication work activities, and this presents one of the highest risks of injury for telecommunication employees. Employees near the overhead electrical power grid frequently work in a vehicle-mounted aerial platform (bucket truck). The work often takes place at least 3 metres from a power line, but an employee may accidentally move closer.
Working around power lines is a hazard that poses one of the greatest risks to employees in the telecommunication sector. Not all power lines are insulated. Bare wires offer no protection from arcing and electrocution.
While conducting their work, employees may move too close and accidentally touch the electrical line resulting in electric shock or electrocution. Even if they do not touch the line, the electrical energy can arc through the air and injure or kill a person.
The work environment may increase the hazards. Tree branches, grid configuration, uneven terrain, and weather conditions, may all increase the risk of accidental contact with the electrical grid.
Elimination and control of hazards
The employer must identify, analyze, and control the hazards that employees are exposed to with the participation of:
- the Policy and/or Work Place Health and Safety Committee, and/or
- the Health and Safety Representative
The Canada Labour Code (the Code), Part II, requires employers to take preventive measures to protect employees from hazards. These measures include:
- eliminate the hazard
- reduce the hazards through engineering or administrative controls, and, as the last resort
- provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
It is sometimes impossible to eliminate all hazards while installing or maintaining the telecommunication network. The employer must then implement hazard reduction measures, such as:
- the use of non-conductive tools as an engineering control, and
- the administrative control of restricting certain work activities to only qualified persons
Employees must also have the training, supervision and knowledge of the risks associated with working near different types of power lines. Nonetheless, there will be residual hazards associated with this work. PPE will be the only means to further reduce the risks of injury or death.
Legislative and regulatory requirements
The Code and the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) require employers to implement preventive measures. They should consider other standards or industry best practices that inform their hazard prevention program.
Section 3.11 of COHSR requires that, when using ladders, they must be non-conductive and compliant with the CSA Z11 Portable Ladders Standard.
Subsection 8.5(6) of COHSR sets out the distance employees must maintain from electrical lines. Distances are based on the voltage of the lines and whether or not the employee is considered a qualified person. The Schedule "Distances from Live Electrical Parts" specifies the minimum distances from live electrical parts:
- column II denotes the minimum distances for persons who are not considered qualified persons
- column III denotes the minimum distances for qualified persons
The COHSR defines a qualified person as, "in respect of a specified duty, a person who, because of his knowledge, training and experience, is qualified to perform that duty safely and properly"
In the context of working around power lines, this could be someone with:
- combined theoretical and practical training specific to the work carried out near the overhead electrical lines. Though not prescribed, Standard Z462 Workplace Electrical Safety published by the CSA contains content of such training
- significant knowledge of the restrictions relating to the overhead electrical network as well as the electrical safety related to it, and
- sufficient experience in field implementation of currently recognized and approved rules and tools to ensure that work near the overhead electrical network will be carried out with care, prudence and diligence, to protect the health and safety of people
Part XIX of COHSR requires employers to implement a Hazard Prevention Program (HPP) for work near overhead powered lines. The regulation sets out a process for identifying, assessing, and mitigating all hazards. For example, the program could include:
- written procedures and safe work methods to carry out the work near a power line
- establishing level of experience requirements to qualify a worker for this type of work
- specific written procedures for vegetation management (for example, when to authorize or prohibit pruning)
- the requirements for a safety watcher or a First Aid attendant
- the use of proximity detectors to notify the employee via an audible and visual signal that they have reached the minimum safe distance
Personal protection equipment
Part XII of COHSR requires the use of personal protection equipment when it is impossible to eliminate the hazard or to reduce the hazard as low as possible. Considerations for the use of personal protective equipment when the working near electrical lines may include:
- protective headwear (section 12.1 of the COHSR and CSA Z94.1 Industrial Safety Helmets: In-Service Performance, Selection, Maintenance and Use)
- protective footwear (section 12.11 of the COHSR and CSA Z195 Protective Footwear)
- leather gloves (insulated if required) or other protective clothing (section 12.14(1)(c) of the COHSR)
- eye protection (section 12.12 of the COHSR and CSA Z94.3 Eye and Face Protectors)
As part of their hazard prevention program, employers must determine if additional personal protective equipment is required for the work task.
- CSA Group
- CSA Z462 Workplace electrical safety
- CSA C225 Vehicle-mounted aerial devices
- ASTM International
- F711 Specification for fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) rod and tube used in live line tools
- Occupational health and safety in federally regulated workplaces
For more information, please contact the closest Employment and Social Development Canada Labour Program office toll free at 1-800-641-4049.
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