24 October 2011

Hydro concerned about contacts with power lines

From Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro:

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (Hydro) fears that an increased number of recorded contacts with power lines by members of the general public and contractors could eventually lead to a fatality. Hydro recorded two more power line contacts last week, bringing the total to 12 contacts in 2011 and 51 contacts since 2007.

Last week's line contacts involved one in Wabush, Labrador, when a contractor hooked a cable causing a utility pole to break, and another in Ming's Bight on the Baie Verte peninsula when a member of the public cut a tree that fell across a power line. Fortunately there were no injuries; however, both these incidents resulted in power outages to surrounding communities and Hydro's customers.

"These most recent line contacts are similar to contacts we've been seeing over the past few years, and it's deeply concerning," says Jim Haynes, Hydro's vice president of regulated operations. "We're lucky there have been no injuries; however, if this alarming trend of power line contacts does not stop, it's only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed."

The majority of these incidents have involved contractors and operators using large equipment such as excavators, dump trucks, booms, cranes, tractors and trailers, particularly in areas such as Wabush were there is heavy construction activity.  Other power line contacts have involved members of the general public engaged in construction projects around the home and trimming or cutting trees for firewood near power lines.

Haynes says that by taking the time to plan carefully and to identify overhead and underground power lines before starting work is critical to preventing injuries.  In the case of tree trimming and cutting, it's important to carefully assess your surroundings to ensure you are within a safe distance of avoiding a tree falling onto a power line.

"Cutting trees for firewood is common near some of our lines, and the best advice we can give is to avoid it altogether," stresses Haynes. "We urge people to move into parts of the woods where there is no possibility of contacting a power line when the tree falls. It's better to put the extra effort into finding a suitable location to cut firewood than to risk serious injury or being killed, which could certainly happen if these types of incidents continue. People need to start considering the danger of doing any type of work near power lines."

"Our priority is to ensure the safety of our employees, contractors and the general public."  said Haynes.  "Contact with power lines is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. We need all members of the public to be aware of the dangers associated with electricity and to take the appropriate precautions when working around power lines, and this includes cutting trees. We ask them to look up, keep back and call ahead to stay safe around power lines."

Specific requirements for maintaining clearances and providing worker training are mandated by the province's occupational health and safety regulations. Special permits are required when working near energized power lines.  Operators of equipment with the capability of contacting overhead or underground power lines must attend an approved power line hazards safety course.

Hydro reminds contractors and the general public that working around electricity requires their complete attention. Accidents can be prevented with proper planning, worksite evaluation and adhering to safe distances. For more information on working safely around electrical equipment, visit HydroSafety.ca or call 1.888.737.1296.

- srbp -