OSEA Safety Blog

What to do When Encountering Powerlines

Tuesday, March 26, 2019 Michele Pratt

If you are experiencing a power outage, you are most likely thinking of your expiring food in the refrigerator, and not the reason for the power outage (which could be a downed power line). Thirty to sixty linemen die from live power lines. Six hundred people annually die from encountering down power lines. Hopefully you never have to come across one, but if you do here are some great tips for keeping yourself safe.

  • Stay at least 35 feet away from the power line that is down.
  • Call your local energy provider to alert them to the downed line.
  • Never walk underneath a downed power line.
  • If you encounter someone who has been affected by a downed power line, call for medical assistance immediately and follow all instructions.
    • DO NOT TOUCH THE PERSON unless instructed by emergency personnel and if trained to do so. - if the person is electrically charged you can also be electrocuted.
  • Do not cut or burn utility poles, the chemicals utilized for treatment are harmful.
  • If you are in a vehicle and a power line falls on your car, don’t leave your vehicle unless there is fire or smoke. If you must leave your vehicle, keep your feet together and grounded to try to avoid shock.

If you are required to work in an area where power lines are present, there are some precautions you can take:

  • OSHA indicates a safe distance of at least 10 feet away from power lines with voltage of 50kV. If you don’t have knowledge of the power line’s voltage stay at least 20 feet away.
  • Call your local utility prior to working in areas power lines are present so you know what you are dealing with.

Power Line Voltage

OSHA Minimum Approach Distance*

(OSHA 1926.1408 Table A)

0 to 50 kV

10 feet

Over 50kV to 200kV

15 feet

Over 200kV to 350kV

20 feet

Over 350kV to 500kV

25 feet

Over 500kV to 750kV

35 feet

  • If you need to use a ladder, make sure you determine the location of power lines in relation to placement of your ladder.
  • Higher voltage lines such as transmission lines are extremely dangerous, and you should increase your distance according to the above table to compensate for the higher voltage.
  • If working with a crane be sure to understand OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.1400: follow encroachment prevention measures when operating at voltages up to 350kV (2ithin 20 feet of power lies, or within 50 feet of power lines with voltages over 350kV.
  • Electrical current can run through trees. If you must, move under a tree keep a safe distance and calculate appropriate overhead clearance.


National Grid, Austin Energy, FPL

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