Electrical – Felled tree contacts SWER conductor
Earlier this year a forestry machine operator was removing trees during forest harvesting works. The machinery operator was using a feller buncher to hold and cut trees; a common tree felling technique with forest harvesting machines that enables the direction of a tree to be felled in a controlled manner if performed correctly.
While felling a multi-stemmed tree, one of the stems broke off and fell in an uncontrolled manner onto an adjacent single wire earth return (SWER) uninsulated electricity conductor. This caused the SWER conductor to dislodge from the nearest pole and fall to the ground.
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.
The incident was reported to the distribution business and to Energy Safe Victoria (ESV).
ESV conducted an investigation of this incident and found:
- Work site safety information related to the task being performed contained inconsistent and conflicting information regarding operational setbacks from electric lines when completing this type of work
- Site safety precautions, such as warning flags or a dedicated spotter, were not used in line with the work site safety information that was provided
- The machinery operator failed to document a site risk assessment prior to commencing the work
- The machinery operator failed to identify the compromised structural integrity of the tree as a site hazard that may have affected the controlled felling of the tree
- The machinery operator did not identify and outline control measures to ensure the work could be completed safely.
ESV’s view is that the combination of these failures resulted in a breach of Electricity Safety legislation; heavy penalties may be applied to such breaches.
- 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 the worksite and that effective hazard controls are implemented
- Use No Go Zone principles when undertaking forest harvesting works in the vicinity of live electrical apparatus
- Regularly reassess each worksite for hazards when completing work near electric lines.
- 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 all locations where powerlines are within or adjacent to the worksite prior to starting works
- Worksites that are near electric lines are 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.
Having completed its investigation of this incident it is ESV’s view the machinery operator failed to ensure the tree he was felling maintained the required clearance from the electric line, which is require by the Electricity Safety (General) Regulations 2019 (Regulations). 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.