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Electrical – Felled tree contacts HV conductors

Background

An electrical incident occurred when a wheeled excavator operator was removing trees during roadside vegetation works. The excavator operator was using a direction felling head to hold and cut trees; a common tree felling technique with excavators that enables the direction of a tree to be felled in a controlled manner if performed correctly.

Excavator

The excavator operator was working along the roadside removing vegetation while traveling in an easterly direction. Upon completion of this work, the excavator operator turned around and travelled in a westerly direction, encountering another tree that required removal. The excavator operator felled the tree in the wrong direction and onto the adjacent high voltage (HV) uninsulated electricity conductors. This caused the HV conductors to clash and pulled them low over the adjacent roadway.

This created an unsafe electrical situation that had the potential to cause fire, property damage, serious personal injury or in the worst circumstance an electrocution. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Excavator

The incident was reported to the distribution business and to Energy Safe Victoria (ESV).

Investigation Findings

ESV conducted an investigation of this incident and found:

  • The machinery operator failed to maintain the minimum clearances for vegetation management work near protected aerial lines
  • The machinery operator failed to identify and use control measures to ensure the work could be completed safely following the change in their work direction
  • Site safety precautions, such as warning flags or a dedicated spotter, were not used when working in the vicinity of electricity conductors.

ESV’s view is that the combination of these failures resulted in breaches of Electricity Safety legislation; heavy penalties may be applied to such breaches.

Key Lessons

  • Ensure all site hazards are identified and actions to control the hazards are implemented
  • Ensure work procedures and practices place importance on the awareness of the location of electric lines on and near a worksite and that effective hazard controls are implemented
  • Use No Go Zone principles when undertaking private vegetation management works in the vicinity of live electrical apparatus
  • Regularly reassess worksites for hazards when completing vegetation management work near electric lines
  • When planning vegetation management work ensure you consider the minimum clearance distances you must keep any cleared vegetation away from electric lines
  • Engage with the local electricity distribution business if minimum clearance distances cannot be maintained at all times during the vegetation management work.

Important information

  • Failing to identify hazards at the work site will place workers at risk of serious personal injury or in the worst circumstance, electrocution
  • Ensure each individual work site is assessed for hazards and controls are implemented to manage risks
  • Look up and Live – identify the location of all powerlines that are in or adjacent to the worksite prior to starting works
  • Vegetation management work near electric lines is dangerous. Vegetation management workers have been seriously injured and electrocuted when the have made contact with both uninsulated low voltage and high voltage electric lines.

Enforcement outcomes

Having completed its investigation of this incident it is ESV’s view the minimum clearances from the electric line, as required by the Electricity Safety (General) Regulations 2019, were not maintained. Failing to maintain the minimum clearance is a breach of the Regulations.

ESV may choose to prosecute or take other enforcement action where it considers a breach of the Electricity Safety Act 1998 or Electricity Safety Regulations has occurred.

Contact us

For advice and information about line clearance (vegetation management) contact our team in the following ways: