Electrical safety in rural Queensland

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Electrical incidents in the rural industry often involve contact between machinery or irrigation pipes with overhead powerlines. Other causes of electrical incidents include general lack of electrical equipment maintenance and unauthorised electrical handy-work.

Apart from death and injury, electrical incidents have also caused significant property damage, for example arcing or burning from electricity can damage or destroy vehicle frames, gearboxes, engines, axles and tyres.

Look up and live – look down and survive

Powerlines can carry very high voltages - up to 330 000 volts.

Electricity can also flow through objects commonly regarded as poor conductors (e.g. trees or machinery). The chances of survival are low for anyone exposed to electricity from powerlines.

You don't need to come into direct contact with powerlines to receive an electric shock as electricity can 'jump' or arc across air gaps.

Powerlines can also run underground so dial 1100 before you dig.

To stay electrically safe always observe safe practices whenever you are near overhead powerlines and electrical equipment like transformers or carrying out activities such as excavating trenches or drilling holes.

There is a free powerline safety plan on the Look up and Live map.

Avoiding powerlines, poles and stay wires

Powerlines can be difficult to see, even on bright sunny days and more so in low light, rain, cloudy weather, or at dawn or dusk.

Most powerlines do not follow a direct line from the top of one pole to another. They sag between poles and can be as much as three or four metres below the cross-arms supporting them. This is where powerlines are most often accidentally contacted. Powerlines can also sway in the wind and sag as temperatures rise so what appears to be a safe working distance may later expose people or property to serious risks.

You need to determine the height and reach of all machinery and plant used near powerlines and consider the way it is used to identify hazardous situations. Plant and machinery such as irrigation pipes, grain augers, elevators, grain silos, cranes and excavators all have the potential to contact powerlines.

Always lower an auger or other machinery before moving it.

Power poles on rural properties may be owned by an electricity distributor or privately owned. Get a licensed electrician to periodically check privately-owned power poles and associated hardware such as cross-arms for structural deterioration due to rot or white ants. If you suspect other power poles on or near your property may be unsafe, report them to your local electricity distributor.

Become familiar with the layout of the overhead electrical system on and near your property and how far away you need to keep from these powerlines.

Follow these tips:

  • Ensure equipment operators are aware of overhead and underground power line locations, specified exclusion zones and the height and reach of equipment being used.
  • Be aware that the layout of powerlines may be altered by your electricity distributor.
  • Be aware that powerlines can move and vary in height due to factors such as wind and temperature and adjust work practices accordingly (e.g. Are they sagging due to storm damage or have they been damaged by a vehicle?)
  • Equipment operators should be aware of the clearances that must be maintained (e.g. from powerlines, poles and stay wires).
  • Use highly visible ground markers to highlight overhead powerlines. Contact your electricity distributor for advice on visual markers.
  • Establish aircraft landing strips and approach paths away from powerlines.
  • Keep all crops and vegetation well clear of power poles and stay wires. Contact your electricity supplier if you suspect that vegetation near powerlines or poles could expose people or property to electrical risk.
  • Ensure no damage occurs to poles, stay wires and overhead powerlines when burning off.
  • Ensure you have clearly defined emergency procedures in the event of contact with electricity.

Fallen powerlines

There is no indicator of whether a fallen powerline is live, so to be safe, always treat them as live. In some cases there may be sparks or arcing and in other cases there may be no sign of danger.

Always keep well clear of powerlines, even if they are draped across a tree or fence and contact your electricity distributor immediately so an emergency repair crew can be sent.

Alert others to prevent them from approaching the fallen powerlines. Working or investigating a power outage around the property at night can be hazardous due to unseen fallen powerlines.

If a machine or vehicle comes into contact with powerlines follow the steps below:

  • Stay calm and remain in the machine or vehicle until the power has been switched off.
  • Do not attempt to get out of the vehicle as you risk being electrocuted by creating a shock path through your body to the ground as you exit.
  • If another danger occurs such as fire and you must jump clear, keep both feet together, while landing upright, to prevent getting an electric shock from the energised ground around the machine. Then, still keeping both feet together, hop well clear of the machine.
  • Call '000' immediately to report powerlines are down and contact your electricity distributor to have the power switched off.
  • Never approach, or allow others to approach, someone or something that has come into contact with powerlines, transformers and other electrical equipment; as it likely that they will be electrocuted.

For more information contact Energex or Ergon Energy.

Exclusion zones

People, machinery and other plant must be kept a safe distance from overhead powerlines at all times. The exclusion zones under Queensland's electrical safety laws are effectively the minimum safe distances to be maintained from powerlines in all directions.

Although the following are the minimum safe distances, the best way to stay electrically safe is to maintain the greatest possible distance from powerlines.

Power line voltage
(1 kV = 1000 volts)

Examples

Exclusion zone*

Up to 132 kV

Low voltage and high voltage powerlines usually on poles

3 metres

Between 132 kV and 330 kV

High voltage powerlines usually on poles and towers

6 metres

Over 330 kV

High voltage powerlines usually on towers

8 metres

*Note: The table above does not fully detail exclusion zone dimensions and other requirements. For further information refer to Part 5 of the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 and the Electrical safety code of practice 2020 - Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 476.8 KB) .

The following tips can reduce electrical risk around powerlines in the rural industry:

  • Always aim to stay further away from powerlines than the distance stipulated by the exclusion zone clearances – increasing distance from powerlines is a simple way to minimise electrical risk.
  • Work away from powerlines – not towards them.
  • Use maps or diagrams to show the location of powerlines and safe operating areas and keep these safety aids up-to-date.
  • Always lower machinery before relocating it.
  • Carry out maintenance and check the height and reach of machinery well away from powerlines.
  • Don't locate machinery or equipment under powerlines.
  • Always use a safety observer whenever there is a risk of coming close to power line exclusion zones.
  • When working with metal pipes near powerlines, don't lift them at right angles to the ground. Irrigation pipes are made in long lengths that easily cover the distance between the ground and overhead powerlines. Because of this, store irrigation pipes well away from powerlines.

Farmsafe Queensland has prepared a range of material specifically for rural industry, including an electrical hazard checklist which provides practical advice and a template to help carry out a risk assessment. The Managing farm safety – Risk management – Electrical hazard checklist is available from Farmsafe Queensland by phoning 1300 737 470.

Underground electrical cables

Underground electrical cables are particularly hazardous as they are hidden from view.

Before excavation starts:

  • Contact Dial Before You Dig on 1100 for current information about any underground essential services at or near where excavation work is to be done.
  • Use advice about underground electrical cables such as location, type, depth and work restrictions to excavate safely.
  • Make sure advice about underground electrical cables is given to anyone else involved.

During excavation:

  • Watch out for warning signs of underground electrical cables such as orange tape, conduits, sand or other markers.
  • Keep in mind that changes in ground level may mean that underground electrical conduits are not at the correct depth.
  • If you contact an underground electrical cable don't move it – contact your electricity distributor immediately and follow their advice.

Electrical equipment

Follow these tips to keep your electrical equipment such as power tools, motors and pumps safe and in good working order.

  • Examine all electrical equipment regularly and arrange for any defects to be fixed.
  • Determine whether there is electrical risk.
  • Manage the electrical risk by:
    • assessing the risks and implementing measures to control them
    • using safety switch protection or regular testing and inspection
    • visually checking all electrical equipment prior to use or connection
    • continuing to monitor electrical equipment on a regular basis.

Visual examination

You should visually examine electrical equipment to see whether power points, light fittings, switchboards, wiring and other electrical equipment are undamaged and in good working order. You should carry out this visual examination once every 12 months .

If you find any problems, or suspect something is not electrically safe, get a licensed electrician to fix it.

Pay particular attention to the following to see if there is any damage, or if the equipment has any other problems:

  • switchboards
  • electrical cables and conduits
  • overhead powerlines and power poles
  • electrical accessories (e.g. power points)
  • other electrical equipment (e.g. light fittings, pumps or electrical cabinets)
  • handheld electrical equipment (e.g. electric drills or circular saws) – these devices must be visually examined prior to connection to electricity.

More on electrical equipment.

Electric welding

Inspect electric welding equipment before you use it and follow these safety tips:

  • Electrode holders should be fully insulated – they should also be maintained to ensure a good electrical connection between the electrode and the holder.
  • Personal protective equipment including protective clothing, gloves, footwear and eye protection must be used.
  • In high risk situations such as in an enclosed space, use a safe system of work. This would use safety measures such as a voltage reduction unit to lower the open circuit voltage of the welder to a safe level or a safety observer to watch over you and turn off the power when you change an electrode.

For more information refer to the Welding processes code of practice 2013 (PDF, 899.8 KB) .

Hazardous areas

An area is considered hazardous if an explosive atmosphere is or may be present. Examples of hazardous areas are:

  • petrol dispensing or decanting areas
  • liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage and decanting areas
  • areas in or adjacent to gas storage facilities
  • ripening rooms
  • grain silos (flammable dusts)
  • those where flammable products are stored, used, or decanted.

The best and simplest way of making sure a hazardous area is electrically safe is not to have any electrical equipment in it.

Never run an extension lead to a hazardous area to use plug-in electrical equipment. Even extra low voltage equipment such as battery drills should not be used in a hazardous area, because they can create electrical sparks and arcs which may initiate an explosion.

If you must have electrical equipment in a hazardous area, you must ensure:

  • the hazardous area is classified by an expert person, establishing the type of hazardous atmosphere and its risk level, in accordance with recognised standards
  • a licensed electrician ensures that the electrical installation and equipment are suitable for the classification.

Safety switches

A safety switch is only useful in protecting people if it operates instantly when an electrical fault occurs.

Test if your safety switch every three months by pushing the 'test' or 'T' button on the unit.

More on safety switches.

Children

Teach children on rural properties about the danger of electricity.

Education helps prevent accidents and ensures electricity does not represent a danger to children. They should be taught that electrical appliances, power points, cords and other electrical equipment are not play things.

Those who care for children should familiarise themselves with all electrical safety precautions:

  • supervise children closely when they are near electrical appliances or equipment
  • find a secure place to store portable electrical appliances used in bathrooms and laundries
  • ensure power points are covered when young children are around
  • recreational activities such as climbing trees and flying kites or model planes can also become a risk around powerlines and other electrical equipment such as transformers mounted on power poles.

More on child safety.

Electricity in the rural industry
Electricity in the rural industry
Electrical safety checklist
Electrical safety checklist