safety precautions for working near live power lines

Working Near Electrical Hazards

If your building is in a downtown metropolis area, window washers will likely be working close to live power lines, which can be dangerous!

Whether the using or designing a window washing and façade access system live power lines should be taken into consideration. It’s important to consider the not only the proximity of the power lines but also the type of work or method of access that will be utilized such as:  

  • rope descent on a bosun’s chair using roof anchors 
  • temporary suspended platform (swing stage) using davit arms or outrigger beams 
  • and ground operations utilizing ladder work, water-fed pole or Ariel (boom) lift 

Whichever the means or method electrical hazards are an important detail that is often overlooked and should be a integral part of a safe work plan. 

Responsibility & Making the Area Safe

In the US, it is the employer's responsibility to assess hazards and ensure safe working conditions for their employee. In this case the employer is the Window Washing Services Company and sometimes the property manager/ owner's representative.  

If the hazard assessment and the safe limits are not conducted or adhered to then the work site could be shut down. If an injury did occur one or all of the constructor’s could be held liable. 

If window washing or maintenance is being performed near lines, one of two things should be done:  

Call the hydro company for more information about having the power lines protected; and they will advise. They typically recommend a service to: 

  • Cover the lines with an insulator. This option is beneficial as it makes the lines much more visible than they usually would to alert (remind) the workers of the danger in addition to acting as in insulator to prevent “electric arc from the power lines to the workers equipment.  

There is usually a fee for the above mentioned services though. Cost estimates and installation schedules can be obtained by contacting the hydro company ahead of time. Although, the work may be performed by a contractor if authorized by the hydro company. Check your local listing for the hydro company in your area. 

Man fixing electrical lines
All Electrical Lines Are Hazardous

It should also be noted that contact with any line (even a residential secondary line) can cause serious injury or death, which is why proper precautions must be taken to protect workers. 

All lines must be treated as high voltage until the voltage has been identified  otherwise by the hydro company. 

In the US, unqualified persons working near exposed lines with voltages less than 50,000 volts must remain a minimum of 10ft away from the hazards at all times. This includes any object being carried by an unqualified person. The distance limit increase by 4" for every 10,000 volts over 50,000 volts. (OSHA 29CFR1910 Subpart S) 

Unqualified persons include anybody who is not trained in Electrical Hazards as mandated by OSHA.  

In addition to the contractor - the property manager/owner's representative should also evaluate the work site well in advance. Then before the work starts they should review the work site with their contractor and point out the location of all lines near or within the building. 

Daily Inspection

If covers are installed, they must be inspected each day before work commences. Property Managers and employers should look for: 

  • Fallen covers 
  • Loose covers 
  • Gaps in the covers 

If you notice any exposed equipment or lines, then call the hydro company immediately and they will make the necessary repairs. Only the hydro company or one of their authorized contractors may install or repair covers and only their covers may be used on lines. 

Bottom Line

If work is to be performed near a power line: 

  • employees must stay back three metres (ten feet) 
  • Employers and/or property managers must coordinate and contact the local hydro company 
  • Have the lines de-energized and/or covered with an insulator 
  • Stay alert and stay safe  


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