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Electrical – Worker breaches safe approach distance

Background

Late last year vegetation management workers were pruning nature strip trees on behalf of a municipal council. The work was being performed from an elevated work platform (EWP) and a safety observer was being used for this work.

The EWP Operator was pruning a tree below the low voltage aerial bundled cable (LVABC). Whilst manoeuvring the EWP basket, the handle of the hydraulic saw they were using to cut the vegetation contacted the LVABC. The EWP Operator lifted the LVABC over the handle of the hydraulic saw with their bare hands and continued to slew the EWP basket.

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

A distribution business employee witnessed the incident and reported it to their manager. The incident was reported to the municipal council by the distribution business.

Investigation Findings

ESV conducted an investigation of this incident and found:

  • The EWP Operator did not hold current training to work as a qualified person conducting vegetation management work
  • The vegetation management workers did not document the applicable safe approach distances (SAD) for the site on the risk assessment completed prior to commencing cutting
  • The EWP Operator did not stop work after the breach of SAD
  • The EWP Safety Observer did not suspend the activity after observing the EWP Operator breach the workers body SAD
  • The vegetation management crew did not report the incident.

ESV’s view is that the combination of these failures means the crew members did not comply with the Electricity Safety (General) Regulations 2019, or the ESV Electrical Safety Rules for Vegetation Management Work near Overhead Powerlines by Non-Electrical Workers, constituting a breach of Electricity Safety legislation; heavy penalties may be applied to such breaches.

Key Lessons

  • Always maintain appropriate safe approach distances (SADs) when undertaking works in the vicinity of live electrical apparatus
  • Regularly reassess each worksite for hazards when completing electric line clearance work
  • Ensure all site hazards are identified and actions to control the hazards are implemented
  • Ensure the Safety Observer suspends the activity at any time if they witness an unsafe situation

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
  • When a vegetation management worker is clearing vegetation on behalf of a municipal council they must comply with the ESV Electrical Safety Rules for vegetation management work near overhead powerlines by non-electrical workers. The rules specify the SAD to be applied; for example, the SAD for a workers body to an LVABC conductor is 300mm.
  • Working near live high and low voltage electric lines is equally dangerous. A vegetation management worker was electrocuted in February 2019 when they made contact with uninsulated low voltage electric lines.

Enforcement Outcomes

Having completed its investigation of this incident it is ESV’s view that the EWP Operator and EWP Safety Observer failed to maintain the minimum clearances from the electric line as required by the Electricity Safety (General) Regulations 2019. Failing to maintain the minimum clearance is a breach of the regulations.

  • ESV’s view is that the EWP Operator failed to maintain SAD, which is a breach of Electricity Safety (General) Regulations
  • ESV’s view is that the EWP Safety Observer failed to ensure SAD were maintained and failed to suspend the activity following the breach of SAD by the EWP Operator, which is a breach of Electricity Safety (General) Regulations
  • The municipal council was issued a warning for failing to report the incident to ESV as required by the Electrical Safety Rules, which is a breach of Electricity Safety (General) regulation

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: