Strict procedures need to be followed if you are looking to carry out work near overhead power lines. You are at risk of electrocution and death and you should also never assume the nature of any overhead lines.
Many a person has been killed in believing that overhead cables were actually telecommunications lines when, in fact, they were carrying electricity. Some poles look remarkably similar and some can even carry both electricity and telecoms lines so you should never take anything for granted when it comes to overhead cables of any kind.
If you intend working close to overhead power lines there are certain checks that need to be carried out firstly and certain people who you may need to inform.
You must contact and consult with the either the National Grid or the Regional Distribution or Electricity Company which operates the power line if any work which you intend carrying out will pass beneath 15 metres of any overhead lines supported by steel towers or beneath just 9 metres if the lines are on wooden or concrete poles or even steel poles as opposed to towers. This would also include workers accessing the proposed work site, even if the work was carried out a further distance away. These distances should be measured from ground level and directly underneath the position of the lines and estimated vertically using your eyes only at the outer most conductor on the pole or tower. The name, address and phone number of the company who operates the lines will usually be located on the poles themselves if you need to seek further clarification.
If any work is going to encroach within the recommended safe distance then you should arrange to meet with a representative from the operating company. They may be able to recommend a safe clearing distance or have other advice or recommendations which might enable you to carry out the work without any danger whilst still complying with all of the health and safety regulations.
If you accept these recommendations, make sure that your workers have copies of the agreement and fully comprehend them and that any precautionary measures, such as putting up barriers and any other precautions you’ve been asked to put in place are carried out to the letter. If there is no alternative, however, and the work needs to be done, then if the only way to make sure that everything is safe is to switch off the power line temporarily, then the company’s representative would have to get that authorised and would need to confirm that with you in writing first before any work could go ahead.
What the Law Says
All of the relevant legislation with regards to working beneath overhead power lines is contained within the Health and Safety Executive Guidance note GS6 and it is GS6 which will ultimately govern what you can and cannot do and any leeway the operating company are able to make in order to assist you must still fall within the regulations as laid out in GS6.
On the Job Itself
Assuming you have been granted permission to go ahead with the work, there are still responsibilities on your part to make sure that things remain safe. You need to ensure that any machinery which contains any kind of lowering or raising device has a limiter placed upon it which is then locked off to prevent it from rising any higher than the permitted limit beneath the lines.
You also need to ensure that safety barriers are placed around the worksite and other warning notices are placed on the vehicles themselves and around the site in accordance with GS6. Likewise, your workforce needs to be careful about keeping their distance if they are working on any scaffolding or ladders in close proximity to the lines.
More detailed information about this can be found in the Health and Safety Executive Guidance note GS6, which you can obtain from the HSE.