Blog: Construction workers urged to stay safe near overhead power lines

SP Energy NetworksBill Cuthbert, health and safety director at SP Energy Networks, is encouraging construction workers to stop and think before they start work close to overhead power lines.

Across the SP Energy Networks area which covers central and southern Scotland, Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales, we manage more than 40,000km of overhead power lines and having the utmost respect for electricity is second nature to our staff and contractors.

It isn’t just our engineers who are at risk of coming into contact with equipment on the electrical network, however. Construction workers frequently operate close to overhead lines, working with scaffolding, roofing, operating plant and machinery and even when carrying ladders.

Working at height is the biggest single cause of fatal and serious injury in the construction industry, and an additional risk to those working at height is the hazard of ‘live’ power lines.

Risk assessment shouldn’t be an onerous task or one that requires external expertise, but it is required by law and the HSE offers comprehensive, free advice and guidance to anyone in the construction industry.

A critical time to identify power lines as a hazard is at the planning stage. A good indication that lines are carrying electricity is that the poles they are connected to will display a yellow and black ‘Danger of Death’ warning sign. Making sure that all staff and sub-contractors are aware of the potential dangers is crucial.

A common misunderstanding is that lines carrying electricity are telephone wires or that they are insulated. Thoroughly checking a site prior to work commencing could avoid an unexpected delay, costly financial mistake or even accident or fatality.

All electricity Distribution Network Operators across the UK (of which SP Energy Networks is one) are happy to help identify and measure the height of power lines and to discuss safe working practices.

The HSE Guidance Note GS6 ‘Avoiding danger from overhead power lines’ offers comprehensive advice for people who are planning to work near lines and the local electricity Distribution Network Operator can help explain how this may apply to your job.

Unfortunately there will be occasions when power lines need to be diverted, shut down or shrouded and this will take time and could incur a cost. Speaking with the local electricity distribution company at the earliest opportunity will aid planning – if you are aware of potential delays and costs it will be easier to manage expectations and keep everyone safe.

At SP Energy Networks, safety is at the forefront of everything we do and we encourage everyone working in construction across our communities to stop and think before working to ensure everyone goes home safely.

Our top tips for staying safe:

  • When planning a job, consider safety from equipment on the electricity network as a priority and ask the local electricity Distribution Network Operator for current asset records where necessary
  • If working near overhead power lines or underground cables read through HSE Guidance Note GS6 ‘Avoiding danger from overhead power lines’ or HSG47 ‘Avoiding danger from underground services’ and if necessary speak to the electricity Distribution Network Operator about how to proceed safely
  • Document a risk assessment before work commences and make sure that everyone who will be on site understands the risks and any necessary control measures, including recognising danger signs

  • Review risk assessments as the work progresses, amend and communicate accordingly.
  • Further advice about working safely near the electricity network can be found at

    In the event of a power emergency in the SP Energy Networks operating areas, you can contact us on 0800 092 9290 (landline) or 0330 101 0222 (mobile) in Central & Southern Scotland, and 0800 001 5400 (landline) or 0330 1010 400 (mobile) in Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales.

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